At this year's 16th annual Ravens Coat Giveaway for the Helping Up Mission on the Monday before Thanksgiving, Ravens long snapper Morgan Cox watched a man struggle with a coat that didn't fit him. He went over to the coat table and helped the man find a bigger size.
"Morgan gets great joy out of helping the men find coats that fit them," said Kris Sharrar, Helping Up Mission's director of philanthropy. "Imagine how that guy feels, and you understand the impact an athlete can have on someone's life."
Sharrar also mentioned Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who had been ill and had played a game in Green Bay the night before, also showed up after the flight was delayed for more than four hours.
"He still wasn't feeling well on Monday morning," Sharrar said, "but he mustered and showed up."
The Helping Up Mission website states that its mission is to "provide hope to people experiencing homelessness, poverty or addiction by meeting their physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs." Since 1997, the organization has graduated 1,500 men back into society. One in six will stay for the full five-month term.
Helping Up Mission's approach to treatment is holistic in nature, integrating the practical needs of its clients -- food, clothing and shelter -- with their clinical, mental health, medical, educational and vocational needs.
"We're trying to address the underlying issue of homelessness: addiction," Sharrar said. "We try and treat the whole person. We all have gifts, and we want to help those men rediscover their gifts -- softball, running, poetry."
The Ravens' involvement with the Helping Up Mission began in 2001 with the coat giveaway. In 2006, former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott reached out before Thanksgiving to arrange a meal.
"He wanted to do something special but not on Turkey Day," Sharrar said. "He wanted it to be a home-cooked southern meal."
Former Ravens safety Ed Reed was in attendance for the first event, and former running back Ray Rice started coming in 2008. The Bart and Friends Dinner just celebrated its 11th anniversary, with Scott attending in person or via Skype throughout the years. In addition to Scott and his wife, Valerie, Matt Judon, Marshal Yanda and O.J. and Chandra Brigance also attended this year's dinner.
"The Ravens really flood the community," Sharrar said. "[Head coach] John [Harbaugh] plays a key role. ... [defensive coordinator Dean] Pees as well. There is also security officer Craig Singletary. When they clean out their lockers at the end of the season, the players leave equipment behind for us. We really feel valued."
The Orioles are also supportive of the Helping Up Mission. Former Orioles manager Dave Trembley and former bench coach Dave Jauss started coming in 2009. Former and current Orioles who have been involved include: Matt Wieters and his wife, Maria; Brian Roberts and his wife, Diana; and Chris Davis and his wife, Jill.
The relationship between the men at the shelter and the players is special. Those at the shelter will sign banners and then present them to the players.
"One year, we had 300 men wanting to get player autographs," Sharrar said. "So we turned that around. Now the men sign banners and the players love it. Matt Wieters was blown away. He told me, ‘Those are the most special autographs.'"
Helping Up Mission has come to rely on players from the Ravens and Orioles because sometimes they can make all the difference.
"These guys are facing struggles," Sharrar said. "They are lower than low at times. Sports provide an escape. That one word of encouragement, the shaking of hands. That's money."
Issue 240: December 2017
Originally published Dec. 15, 2017