UM players help feed homeless in Paris

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Paris, France — The Michigan players and coaches lined long tables inside the restaurant in which they had just dined and assembled sandwich after sandwich on Tuesday after participating in a “treasure hunt” around Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.

They made close to 200 buttered bread with ham and cheese packaged in tidy individual clear boxes. They weren’t the most substantial looking sandwiches, but this would be more food than many of the homeless in Paris will eat on a day-to-day basis.

Michigan players made over 200 sandwiches for the homeless on Tuesday in Paris.

This is Michigan’s second overseas spring trip, and both the trip to Rome last year and this one to Paris have been heavy on sightseeing and paintball, but room was made for community service. Michigan, in conjunction with Serve the City Paris, delivered sandwiches and side dishes to the homeless in Paris on Tuesday.

For Salomon Kabongo-Kooper, executive director of Paris-based Serve the City, which has associated groups in many major European cities and four in the United States, this was about showing the players another side of Paris.

The group’s mission, according to its website, is to transform the city by providing relief.

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“It’s not about Xs and Os anymore,” Kabongo-Kooper, who has an undergraduate degree from Judson University in Illinois and a law degree from McGill in Montreal, said. “It’s about these are human beings.”

He planned to take players north of Paris to visit with refugees to distribute food, and clothing. Another group of Michigan players went around the city to distribute food.

Kabongo-Kooper said this was about having the players with people despite the potential language barrier.

“Giving them back some dignity,” he said. “A lot of the people out there don’t care about the food. They just want to have conversation. But giving them something to eat brings that barrier down.

“You don’t have to speak French to do this. It’s human interaction. Talking to someone.”

Michigan offensive lineman Grant Newsome said interacting with a language barrier would be interesting and challenging. But he understood the concept.

“I think it’s really just the gesture and proving that humanity has a common language just helping out those who are less fortunate no matter where we are,” Newsome said.

Like his teammates, Newsome appreciated the fact Michigan adds community service to the spring trips.

“Anytime we can go somewhere and we have a platform, it’s important for us as athletes and us as students with a great university behind us to give back,” he said.

Michigan took a sobering trip Sunday to Normandy where the players learned more about the U.S. and allied landings that changed World War II. The players had an eye-opening experiencing as they fully grasped that the young men who landed there were similar to their ages now.

Visiting with the homeless adds to the players’ perspective.

“I feel like it’s a good thing for us as a team to see what everybody else goes through in the world, so it’s very special, it’s very touching for us,” safety Tyree Kinnel said. “It just lets us know awareness of how the world is and how life could treat you. I just feel like it’s very special for us and we can learn from it.”

A big part of the process was the food preparation. This trip is about team bonding, and they worked together making sandwiches. And then it was about communicating with those they hoped to assist.

“It brings some decency back to these people and some respect,” defensive end Chase Winovich said. “It’s the least we can do.”

Winovich said the players appreciate the balanced itinerary of the trip and an event like working in the community.

“It kinda has to do with the reflection of why we came in the first place and that’s to be very well-rounded human beings and be the best possible people we can be,” Winovich said. “That’s kinda what we aspire (to). Those aspects will carry over for us later in life.

“It’s great, honestly. The whole experience has been a blessing. There are so many different perspectives we’ve gained and so many things I appreciate more that you might take for granted, just like seeing Normandy, for example.”