NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Jake Fleming looked around him on Tuesday night, and smiled.
To his left was Titans coach Mike Vrabel. He’d shook his hand just moments earlier. To his right was Titans receiver Corey Davis and a bunch of his teammates, delivering Thanksgiving meals to some of Nashville’s homeless underneath the Jefferson Street Bridge.
“I can’t tell you how much this means to some of these people,” Fleming said. “For the homeless, to have people show an interest in them, and show they care about them, it means the world to them. The Titans, they’re doing a good thing out here.”
Fleming, 60, speaks from experience. He’s lived life on the streets himself, homeless. He currently has a roof over his head in East Nashville, but he was under the Jefferson Street Bridge, home to the largest homeless population in Nashville, on Tuesday night helping out himself. It’s where many of his homeless friends meet each week.
On this Tuesday, for the fifth year in a row, the Titans teamed up with The Bridge Ministry to feed the homeless a Thanksgiving meal. Roughly 120 members of the organization– from players to coaches to members of the front office – took part in the event. So did other staff members, along with the Titans cheerleaders. Family members joined the group as well.
“The goal is to bring joy, and give them the holiday spirit,” Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. “To come out and put a smile on someone’s face, and see the happiness, and bring joy to this world, it’s what it is all about.”
The Titans teamed with the Bridge Ministry to feed Nashville's homeless a Thanksgiving meal on Tuesday night. (Photos: Gary Glenn, Kayla Schoen, Lilly Kate Hollis)
An estimated 500 men, women and children from the homeless community turned out on a chilly night. In addition to the meal, blankets, gloves, scarfs, and non-perishable items were also distributed. Some in the Titans group played games with kids.
“It seems like everybody here is thankful that we’re here,” Vrabel said. “Any time we can give of ourselves, and the resources that we have as an organization, as a team, as players, around the holidays and throughout the year, it is a great thing.
“We understand that there’s a lot of other people that don’t have the same gifts we’ve been given.”
Titans general manager Jon Robinson was on hand, along with a large group from the front office.
Vrabel complimented the team’s community relations staff -- Tina Tuggle, Susanna Nickell, Natalie Johnson and Josh Corey – for organizing the event.
Every Tuesday, the homeless gather under the bridge, located not far from where the Titans play on Sundays, and just a few miles from the team’s practice facility in Metro Center.
The Titans loaded into buses, and went to work, as a team. While some members of the Titans organization served food, others worked to deliver items to the homeless. Roughly two dozens players were on hand, handing out food, clothing, and hugs.
“When you think about the gratefulness, this group is so grateful to have us out here,” said Tuggle, the Titans Community Relations Director. “And it’s not just because we’re Titans, but because we are in the community and we are helping them. So they really appreciate it.”
Early in the evening, Vrabel, Casey and Tuggle stood in front of the crowd and presented a check for $25,000 to the Bridge Ministries. In return, the Bridge Ministries presented the Bridge Award to the Titans for their generosity.
Candy Christmas, CEO/Founder of The Bridge Ministry, thanked the team for its support. Bridge Ministries is a grassroots non-profit that seeks to address poverty and homelessness in the Nashville area through faith-based programming and by providing everyday necessities to those they serve.
“For Thanksgiving, it is a blessing,” Christmas said. “Some of these people, they are at the lowest point in their lives. So they are very grateful for everything they can get. … The Titans have been a huge blessing for us.
“I just want to say how much the Bridge Ministry appreciates Titans organization, and the heart they have for their community and their willingness to serve the community of Nashville. The fact they are willing to come down and lend a hand, it is amazing.”
Bubba Hayes, a member of the homeless community, was decked out in a Philadelphia Eagles jacket. He laughed after talking with Vrabel, and eventually made his way into a group picture with the team’s cheerleaders. Hayes said he’s a fan of the Titans. He was at the event a year ago in an Eagles hat.
Christmas said Nashville has 11,000 homeless in the city, including 4,000 children. She was happy to see so many smiles on Tuesday night.
At one point in the evening she led a “God Bless the Titans” cheer.
“It is nice to see the Titans come out, and help somebody that can’t help themselves,” Fleming said. “That’s the best part about life.”