Willie Snead got a taste of the impact he has made on the community Tuesday.
As part of a contingent of players who handed out 1,000 Thanksgiving dinners to families in need, the New Orleans Saints receiver quickly found out he would be doing much more than picking up and handing out turkeys.
Fans stopped and snapped pictures with Snead, gushed about how the first-year Saints player has become their favorite player, talked about how much they like the way he plays. A few fans even thanked him for the Thanksgiving dinner by kissing him on the cheek.
“It just shows you what’s really important in life,” Snead said. “These people really care about us and what we do. We’re an inspiration to them. Doing this kind of event, it gives us the motivation to just go out there, work harder and put a smile on these people’s faces.”
Snead was just one member of a group that included Terron Armstead, Brandon Coleman, Tim Hightower, C.J. Spiller, Senio Kelemete, Hau’oli Kikaha, Justin Drescher, Thomas Morstead and Cameron Jordan.
But the experience is a little different for Snead than most of the veteran Saints. A relative unknown who spent most of the offseason regarded as a long shot to make the roster, Snead hadn’t made any public appearances for charity.
“This is my first time,” he said. “I’m really enjoying myself.”
Snead’s unlikely rise to the No. 2 spot in the Saints’ receiving corps has made him a fan favorite. Vaulting over five or six other receivers to catch 41 passes for 626 yards and three touchdowns can make a player a fan favorite quickly.
And Snead understands how much that can mean to a fan.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “I appreciate everybody’s support, and I work really hard, so it feels good. I just feel like I should give back.”
Kikaha, a second-round pick who starred at Washington for two seasons and made the rounds on the awards circuit last year, has been part of a few more charity events than Snead. But he’s also realizing he’s starting to get a little more attention around New Orleans. Kikaha ranks second on the team with four sacks and fourth with 36 tackles, and fans have taken notice of the rookie’s play, even on a defense that has struggled.
“You play on the field and produce a little bit, and people will take notice,” Kikaha said. “Definitely, you get fans wanting to come up, talk and hang out. ... We try to hang out with them as much as we can.”
A professional athlete holds an interesting place in the community around the holidays, uniquely equipped to make some fan’s holidays a lot better.
Events like Tuesday’s turkey giveaway — paid for by Saints players — brings that home.
“I don’t really usually talk about giving back, because in some ways, it’s bragging,” Kikaha said. “But it’s also being able to help others, be a part of something like this, show our faces in the community and show them that we care about them. We want to be a part of what they have going.”
New Orleans is ready to welcome the bright spots on this Saints team with open arms.