PATERSON, NJ - A popular native son of Paterson was on hand at Eva's Village, the city's largest soup kitchen, to serve hot lunches to 400 hungry men and women on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and several of his teammates volunteered by serving hot meals, getting to know the patrons, and posing for pictures with fans. The Giants players also distributed photographs of the team and made themselves available to sign autographs.
Cruz, a native of Paterson's Fourth Ward, told a gaggle of reporters, "I thought it was only right to come back here," before getting to work serving meals.
The Super Bowl champion wide receiver is a graduate of Paterson Catholic High School, and is known for his connection to the city and his trademark celebration dance known as the "Silk City Salsa."
Cruz played college football at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and joined the Giants in 2010. After a standout season last year, Cruz was hired as the public face for a Campbell's "Chunky" soup advertising campaign. He appeared in a television commercial for the product that has been broadcast extensively this season.
The Camden-based soup company donated 5,000 cans of soup to Eva's Village to sponsor the event.
"With Thanksgiving around the corner, the New York Giants wide receiver wanted to make a special donation to his hometown and thank members of the Paterson community for their support over the years," said a press release from the soup kitchen, adding the football star has a strong track record of volunteering.
Every day, including weekends and holidays, the non-profit organization serves hot lunches in a cafeteria recently expanded to accommodate 400 patrons in total.
It's rare for Eva's Village to have such a high-profile volunteer according to Jennifer Doherty, the organization's volunteer coordinator. However, she said, teams of corporate employees regularly come to volunteer their time.
The kitchen began by serving free hot dogs and beans in the basement of the St. John's covenant in 1982.
Doherty said the non-profit adapted to meet the needs of the community, expanding its operations to include shelters for the homeless, and drug treatment services for the addicted.
"We keep listening to the needs and growing," she said, calling today's event "kindness in action."