For the fourth year in a row, the San Antonio Spurs have quit their day jobs — for one evening.
The annual Champions Against Hunger Fundraising Dinner, held at The Grill at Leon Springs, featured some well-known waiters from the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs along with future Hall of Fame head coach Gregg Popovich.
Proceeds from the event went to the San Antonio Food Bank and its efforts to distribute more than 50 million pounds of food to struggling families in 16 South Texas counties.
“This is an amazing restaurant where 15 different organizations have sponsored tables to help put food on the table for those in need. About $150,000 raised tonight will go to supporting the food bank and it’s efforts to feed families,” said Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank.
Donning aprons and with bottles of wine in hand, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Matt Bonner and Danny Green, among others, took to their tables and saw to their guests.
As players refilled wine glasses and brought out a meticulously prepared menu items, guests enjoyed photos and casual conversation with the Alamo City’s most famous residents. Breaking bread with the current NBA champions is a rare honor, indeed, especially when fans at one table were able to get wine recommendations from Parker or Pop, an oenophile when he’s not leading his team to its next championship.
Those lucky enough to sit at Boris Diaw’s table were treated to a breakdown of the evening’s appetizer delivered with the poise of a seasoned executive chef. More levity was to be found with Duncan, who was as endearing as he is in the now-famous H-E-B commercials.
Leave it to Coach Pop to keep his squad humble even off the basketball court with his trademark wit.
“I don’t know if they got any better at (being waiters), but at least there’s some food left after they brought it out,” said Popovich with a wry smile.
With more than 36% of those served by the Food Bank under the age of 18, the evening was about more than just stargazing. Funding more than 19 food distribution and nutrition education programs is no easy task — but it is much more manageable with community partners and some star power.
Cooper is well know in the non-profit world for creative approaches to fund-raising that enable his organization to keep client families fed year-around and not only during the holiday season
“We set the table for 58,000 people every week, so we have to ask ourselves where that support will come from,” Cooper said. “As we talk to other food banks and other markets, there’s just not another NBA franchise that is so open and inviting when it comes to bringing the community to the table.”
Popovich is no stranger to partnering with the San Antonio Food Bank. The Air Force Academy alum has had four years of practice of his tableside manner while getting the word out about the issue of hunger in Southwest Texas.
For their efforts, President Obama recently commended the franchise during a visit by the team to the White House celebrate its 2014 NBA championship title.
“We have many people, mostly kids and elderly, that are very challenged as far as food is concerned,” said Popovich. “The Food Bank, under the direction of Eric Cooper, does a great job of getting those meals spread across the community. Our team understands how fortunate they are and they enjoy being here to help out.”
Through sizable donations by corporate partners, such as Valero Energy, the San Antonio Food Bank has managed to stay on task even as other food banks falter.
“When a kid is hungry, they cannot think of anything else,” said Bill Klesse, former chairman and CEO of Valero. “But when you give them proper nourishment, their whole life is in front of them. By raising money with the Spurs, and with Valero over the years, the food bank does a great service for this community.”