Ever since Ethan Greenidge signed with the New Orleans Saints and earned his way onto the team’s roster last year, he began to think about ways he can give back to his hometown of Riverhead.
His first idea was to start a camp for young football players.
But as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the nation, Mr. Greenidge, 22, realized a camp wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon and the need in his hometown was more immediate and urgent.
In late February, Mr. Greenidge flew to Dallas to begin training for his sophomore season in the NFL, shortly before the pandemic forced so many New York residents out of work and schools to close.
“I didn’t want to be that guy who is successful and just forgot about everybody,” he said in an interview from Dallas. “I wanted to make sure I invested into the place where I’m from so we can see a better change and progress.”
From Dallas, Mr. Greenidge began coordinating ways to give back, specifically to the children in the school district that helped mold him into the person he is today.
One way was by purchasing grocery store gift cards that could be distributed to families. With his mother, Xann, helping coordinate from back home in Flanders, Mr. Greenidge connected with one of his former coaches, Brian Stark, who is the owner of Glenwood Village.
Mr. Stark said it was a “timely coincidence” when he received a call from Xann, who told him how her son was looking for ways to give back. Mr. Stark said he had just been thinking about how he could give back and was planning to purchase some gift cards.
“She specifically said the schools and the kids,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll go over to ShopRite right now because I’m thinking of doing that myself and I’ll go buy gift cards. If he wants to do that, I’ll match it.’ We kind of put our resources together.”
Mr. Stark went to work figuring out how to get the gift cards in the right hands. A series of phone calls, starting with Riverhead Community Action Awareness Program and various school district administrators, led him to the principals at Phillips Avenue and Roanoke Avenue elementary schools, where some of the neediest families in the district live.
He emailed Phillips principal Deb Rodgers and Roanoke principal Thomas Payton and told them they could pick up the gift cards at his Glenwood office to be distributed.
Mr. Greenidge and Mr. Stark each contributed $1,000 toward gift cards.
“The schools provide a lot of food for these kids,” said Mr. Greenidge, who was the News-Review’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. “And when they’re home, it’s kind of hard for parents to support that and to keep that going financially.”
In addition to the gift cards, Mr. Greenidge donated to a few local churches. He donated money to cover the cost of meals for April at Church of the Harvest on Raynor Avenue. He also purchased a full-sized freezer for Galilee Church of God In Christ on Old Quogue Road. He said their food pantry was having trouble with equipment and the freezer will allow them to keep food fresh.
He also donated to the meal train at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
“It makes me really happy,” Mr. Greenidge said of giving back. “My religious beliefs are one of the things I stand on and it definitely makes me who I am. It’s always great to give.”
Mr. Greenidge said under normal circumstances he would have reported to organized team activities (OTAs) last week to begin his first practices with the Saints following the offseason. But those plans are on hold. Saints head coach Sean Payton told players on Wednesday that they will not have any offseason program.
“Right now everything is kind of up in the air,” Mr. Greenidge said Tuesday.
Mr. Greenidge played four years at Villanova University after graduating from Riverhead High School and joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent last April. He did not see any action during regular season games, but was on the 53-man roster for the full duration of the 2019-20 season. The Saints went 13-3 and lost in the playoffs to the Minnesota Vikings.
Mr. Greenidge said he’s been making good progress in his offseason workouts.
“I’m able to be more mature as a professional athlete and get my body ready, doing the right things, eating better and doing everything I need to do to prepare and be ready to go,” he said.