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Gophers make a difference in the lives of Twin Cities families this Thanksgiving

11/20/2018, 8:00pm CST
By Daniel House

The Gophers hosted their annual “Row The Boat Turkey Drive” on Tuesday evening to benefit families in the local Twin Cities community. Players helped fund and organize the event along with Minnesota coaches and support staff. Families drove through a line near the Jackson County entrance of TCF Bank Stadium as players passed out hot chocolate to each person. 

Head coach P.J. Fleck and his wife, Heather, were at the intersection directing vehicles as a group of players passed out Thanksgiving meals. The event helped support nine different local organizations scattered throughout the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul community. 

Every year, the players look forward to this event to help give back to families in the Twin Citiea area. Senior kicker Emmit Carpenter was one of many players who donated their time passing out turkeys to families on Tuesday night. 

“It’s a really special night for us. Ever since we did this last year, it’s something that our team has looked forward to for awhile. It’s a really special thing when you can get a hundred-plus guys, plus all of our coaches to come together on something like this that makes such a big difference and impact on the community,” Carpenter said. “We’re having a lot of fun out here doing it and it’s pretty special to see the impact that we’re making on people during the holiday season.” 

For the past two years, the event has been organized by the entire football staff, including Director of Player Development Norries Wilson, head coach P.J. Fleck and members of his staff. The players donate their time and money to the cause and Cub Foods also contributes products to the event. 

“It was something that our team came together on and we are really excited about everyone contributing whether donating money for it or being here working,” Fleck said. “It’s top to bottom in our program, whether you’re a kicker, the head coach or anything in between, it’s something really special that everyone can come together and work on.”

All of the players, including Carpenter have played a major role in the community through the “serving and giving” component of Minnesota’s “Row the Boat” culture. Over the past two years, Carpenter has watched these type of events bring life to families who need it most. It’s what makes this night special to him. 

“That’s probably the one thing I’m most thankful for during my time here, just the platform it gives you to make a difference. This has been the way I’ve seen life growing up, but it’s been even more amplified since I’ve been here,” Carpenter said. “Your life isn’t about you, it’s about the people around you and the more that you can give to them, the better everything will be. Just being here, especially with Coach Fleck, and having the platform to make a difference and serve the community is incredible.”

Players holding signs stood next to fire pots, guiding families to the group handing out complete Thanksgiving meals. Carpenter had just wrapped up his shift handing out hot chocolate to families in their cars. “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” blasted over the speakers as he handed warm holiday drinks to adults and children. Smiles stretched across their faces as players delivered a touch of holiday cheer to these families. For those in attendance, it brought a sense of warmth to the frigid Minnesota air. 

“I was just on the duty of handing out hot chocolate,” Carpenter said. “Even the adults in the cars, if you offer them a cup of hot chocolate, just the smile they get on their face is pretty special. All around, this is a really cool event and I’m super proud to be a part of it.”

When a car arrived in the late stages of the turkey drive, head coach P.J. Fleck grabbed a meal, reached through the car window and embraced members of a family. Fleck and his players each shared this same type of connection with every vehicle that pulled through the parking lot. Holiday spirit radiated as the head coach, staff and players came together to make a difference. 

With the Gophers preparing for a huge rivalry game against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday, this event brings perspective to everyone on the team. Thursday marks the Thanksgiving holiday where our world gives thanks to the little things in life. These players had the chance to change the lives of families and bring a warm holiday meal to their table. For each player, it provided a sense of what life and the holiday season is truly all about.

“It’s great to give some perspective in life as well. We are all pretty lucky to be in the position we are playing football here at Minnesota and the more that we can use that position to help others, the better off we will be,” Carpenter said. “I think it’s a really good thing for us to do just to remind you that no matter what, you always have something to be thankful for."


The #Gophers are hosting a Row The Boat Turkey Drive tonight. The players all personally chipped in to provide meals for local families this Thanksgiving.

— (@GopherHole) November 20, 2018


Families have been picking up meals with the smiling faces of several #Gophers greeting them. #ServingandGiving

— (@GopherHole) November 21, 2018


Only a few turkeys left! The guys are having fun tonight while giving back to many people. #Gophers

— (@GopherHole) November 21, 2018


A very cool event tonight as the #Gophers host a "Row the Boat" Turkey Drive. Each player personally donated money to provide meals for local Twin Cities families this Thanksgiving.

— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) November 20, 2018


Families are being greeted by players, staff and coaches who helped organize and fund this turkey drive. Christmas music is playing as they pick up their meals. They said they are so happy to serve and give back to the Twin Cities community. #Gophers

— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) November 21, 2018


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