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#TGW: Can-Do Attitude

Oct. 12, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

There’s no sight more pleasant for an outfielder than a “can of corn.”

During the month of September, Georgia Tech Softball’s outfielders — as well as their infielders, pitchers and coaches — had the same affinity for a can of soup, a can of chicken, even a can of peas. In fact, any donated foodstuff in a can made the team feel good during September, as the team held a canned-food drive to help out the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

“[The idea] was from [Assistant] Coach Erin [Wright]. She knows what I’m about, what our core values are and that community service is important,” said Softball Head Coach Shelly Hoerner. “This is what she chose for the month of September. She really rallied the team and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and the team bought in. They were really into it.

“I thought it was so neat that she implemented it to be fun, not just to say, ‘Let’s get canned goods for this reason,’” Hoerner added. “We marketed it. The team, as they were taking the selfies, they would manage to market it on social media. They loved doing it.”

The total team effort included the use of social media, solidarity by wearing orange on Wednesdays, and a partnership with The Campus Christian Fellowship and resulted in a gathering of 1,076 pounds of canned food, the equivalent of 868 meals for those in need.

“I thought it was truly amazing,” said Hoerner. “Coach Erin made it all happen. I think she did a great job on that, got the team really involved and had a fun time doing it. Then two of our players (senior outfielder Morgan Taylor and junior infielder Jessica Kowalewicz) brought it to us about CCF wanting to help out and that made it even better. CCF did a great job.”

Wright said the initiative began when she was looking for a project to continue Coach Hoerner’s monthly commitment to community service and came upon the Atlanta Community Food Bank and its increased call to action for Hunger Action Month.

It’s an important cause, as the Hunger in America 2014 Report showed that 1 in 7 Americans turn to Feeding America network food banks for help, and Feeding America network serves 5.4 million individuals every week, 80,600 in Atlanta. The report also found that 18.7 percent of people in Georgia are considered “food insecure,” meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from, 28.2 percent of that number are children.

“I found that the Atlanta Community Food Bank has a canned-food drive for the month of September every September,” said Coach Wright. “Every Wednesday the girls participated by getting pictures together and posting different things on social media with them wearing orange because orange was the color of the month. They gathered all the cans they could.

“CCF joined us because two girls on the team, Jessie (Jessica Kowalewicz) and Morgan are both involved in CCF. They told them about it and they got on board,” she added. “Combined we had over a thousand pounds of cans, that was 868 meals, total. They did awesome.”

The drive was just the latest example of how Hoerner has made these monthly community service projects as much a part of her program as off-season throwing and conditioning.

“Coach Hoerner has a great passion for the community and our team being a part of the community because they are so supportive of us at our games and anything we do as a program,” said Taylor. “She really expresses her passion and I think it has grown through our team to have that same passion for community service. I just think we all, as a program, think it is very important to be out in the community supporting the people who support us just as much.”

Taylor said the team was fired up about the project from the very beginning, but that intensity ratcheted up when Wright divided the squad into two teams, and made the drive a month-long competition to raise the most cans.

“We had little contests each week,” Taylor said. “We had to come up with something creative each week to post on social media dealing with Hunger Action Month and the color orange. Each week a different team ended up winning, whoever was the most creative. That was a lot of fun.”

The team’s dedication not only attracted CCF but found enthusiasm to get involved throughout the campus and community.

“We had bins outside of our (September 27) home games against Emory, so the fans that attended — they already knew that we were raising cans — a lot of the fans supported us by bringing cans,” Taylor said. “We made it known in the Athletic Association about the event, so we had some participation within the Athletic Association.”

The team got into wearing orange on Wednesdays and found creative ways to spread the word that even surprised their coaches.

“We really tried to hit the social media hard because that’s what is really engaging among college students,” said Wright. “I asked them to just take pictures and they went above and beyond. They did videos and flip-cams, stuff like that. They did a really great job with that.”

Hoerner wasn’t surprised about the response from the entire Georgia Tech family.

“The people at Georgia Tech, it shows how important people are,” she said.

She also wasn’t surprised by the extent to which the team competed to win as far as raising cans.

“It just shows what kind of people are in the Softball program right now. They’re competitors,” said Hoerner. “That’s going to continue to show in every aspect of their lives and especially on the softball field. Seeing that competitiveness in an off-the-field event makes me so proud to know they’re going to compete even harder ON the field. But it just shows you what kind of people that we have in the program — just good people, competitors, hard workers that want to be a success.”

The extent of the success of the drive was obvious in the faces of the people at ACFB when the team and CCF volunteers dropped off the gigantic box of canned food.

“When they delivered all the cans, when they found out how many families it fed, their jaws dropped,” said Hoerner. “I think that hit home, ‘Wow. This is what we did.’”

“They were just so grateful. It was so rewarding to be able to see how grateful the people were,” Taylor said. “That was just really rewarding to see how much hard work we put in that it is going to benefit 868 people.”

Taylor is already excited about next September and the challenge that awaits in topping this year’s total.

“We raised a high bar this year so we’re definitely going to have to raise it a little bit higher next year,” she said.

Of course, the competitor in her came out when asked which team actually won this year’s competition.

“They haven’t revealed the results yet, so I’m curious to see,” Taylor said. “I’m going to have to ask Coach about that.”

For more information on the Atlanta Community Food Bank please visit www.acfb.org.

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