MANKATO, Minn. –While the Vikings put in hard work at training camp Saturday, fans went to work on the sidelines.
As part of the inaugural Vikings Women Day at training camp, female fans were invited to partner with MATTER in packing boxes of non-perishable food for Minnesotans in need. Many women were joined by their families, and the effort became a family affair.
After team walk-through, several players also came over to lend a hand.
"To have that many players come over was amazing," Vikings Women Director Tami Krause said. "Every player that came through packed his own box and taped it up – some of them signed the boxes, and they were hopping in pictures with people from MATTER."
The packing took place in two sessions. During the morning session, an impressive 900 boxes were packed by volunteers of all ages. The afternoon session was just as productive, finishing off an additional 485 boxes and easily surpassing the original benchmark of 1,000.
"It's blown our original [record] of 1,000 out of the water – it's exciting," said Joe Newhouse, MATTER vice president of strategy and innovation. "I think everyone is looking to instill a little meaning in their life and having what they do matter. This is just a really great activity for families […] to be able to do something with their hands and have a fun, engaging volunteer-type experience where they can make a real, tangible impact in the community."
The food packed by MATTER is utilized in several different ways, including diabetes education programs, schools and Boys and Girls Clubs. MATTER boxes are also kept in the back of Hennepin County and St. Louis Park squad cars.
"We've found that sheriffs and police are really on the front lines of seeing hunger homelessness first-hand," Newhouse. "Having something like this allows them to respond immediately in a very real way."
In addition to supporting MATTER, female fans could register for a VIP experience during afternoon practice. The 75 spots offered quickly sold out for an opportunity to enjoy a sideline view from an air-conditioned tent, food provided by Tav on the Ave, exclusive gifts, Vikings giveaways and a meet-and-greet with former Vikings legendary running back Chuck Foreman.
"We wanted to provide a unique experience for women at training camp, and we wanted to keep it intimate, too," Krause said. "Not too big where they were fighting for a spot to have a good view."
Among the VIP experience guests were mother and daughter, Paulette and Kelly Yadon, who drove five hours from Superior, Wisconsin, to attend their first training camp. Paulette said making the trek from Mankato has been on her bucket list for years, and she and her daughter decided to enjoy the day in style.
"I've loved the Vikings since I was a teenager," Paulette said. "My whole family is made up of Packers fans, but I always said, 'No, the Vikings.'
"I just fell in love with them back in the '70s," Paulette added. "My family would sit around and watch Vikings-Packers games, and I started cheering for the Vikings."
Kelly said she appreciates the sportsmanship and attitude of the Vikings and shares the fandom with her mother. To finally see training camp in person from the VIP tent made her experience that much more special.
"I love it – it's absolutely perfect. It's a dream come true," Kelly said.
Paulette and Kelly, whose favorite players are Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson, respectively, also said it's been fun cheering for Duluth native C.J. Ham since he signed with the Vikings as a rookie free agent in May.
"It's exciting," said Kelly. "My friends know him, so I've been sending them Snapchats and photos of him on the field today. It's pretty cool to have someone local on the team."
Paulette and Kelly said they've made it a goal to return for future Vikings Women Day experiences in Mankato. They do have one more pressing goal, however.
"The most important thing," said Paulette, smiling, "is that the Vikings beat the Packers on Sept. 18."