The players in the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic will have a lean and hungry look about them.
Saturday at the Coliseum, the young men from Hampton, James Madison, VCU and Virginia Tech will be hungry for victory, hungry for success, hungry to play well and keep coaches off their backs.
The cause for which they are playing, however, concerns hunger in the most literal sense.
The beneficiaries of the tournament are the Federated Food Banks of Virginia.
Last year’s inaugural Classic provided almost $50,000, which was divided among the seven food banks across the state.
That’s no small contribution. Food banks somehow find a way to turn every dollar donated into four pounds of food.
“We were thrilled,” said Leslie Van Horn, executive director of the FFBV.
Van Horn hopes, as we all should, the results this year will be even more thrilling.
Hampton plays James Madison in the first game Saturday at 3 p.m.
The game between VCU and Virginia Tech, scheduled to begin at 5:30, is the reason the Coliseum might be sold out.
Virginia Tech fans in Richmond show up to support their Hokies.
And it is an understatement to say VCU fans have embraced their men’s basketball program. They show up and make a lot of noise.
The joint should be jumping.
The Rams (9-3), members of the Atlantic 10 Conference, would like to pad their RPI numbers and NCAA tournament resume with a victory over an ACC team.
The Hokies (7-3), winners at Miami and at home against West Virginia, want to prove they’re a competitive ACC team. They also want to expunge memories of their season-opening home loss to South Carolina Upstate.
Back in the real world, those concerns pale in comparison to what Van Horn and her colleagues see every day.
Van Horn serves a volunteer shift in her local food bank on Fridays. And when she arrives, Van Horn is amazed.
“People start lining up at 6 a.m., even though we don’t open until 9 o’clock,” she said. “They’re there even though we tell people on a regular basis they will get the food they need. They’re afraid they won’t.
“We are definitely seeing an increase (in need). The economy has had a slow recovery, and we see a lot of people who are unemployed or underemployed.”
Food insecurity was exacerbated when the temporary increase to the SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) from the 2009 Recovery Act expired on Nov. 1 and wasn’t renewed by the U.S. Congress.
The Pew Charitable Trust and the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate that affects between 900,000 and 1.065 million people in Virginia.
“We’re starting to see an impact from that,” Van Horn said. “We think we’ll see a lot more around the first of the year.
“And we’re concerned with more cuts in SNAP from Congress. We feel like food banks have been able to fill gaps for individuals. But all these factors might create such a huge effect that we’re concerned we might not be able to fill the gaps.”
The food banks of Virginia typically serve more than one million people annually. Van Horn said about 42 percent are children.
Last year, Virginia’s food banks provided almost 123 million pounds of food and grocery products to families in need.
“I see people from every walk of life in those lines,” Van Horn said. “It is a little mind-boggling at times.
“People relate hunger to skin and bones and bloated stomachs. That’s not always the case. You can be in a room full of people and somebody is struggling with hunger. They have to make a decision to buy food or medication. And I think those decisions are becoming harder and harder.”
This basketball tournament isn’t easy to put together. Teams are pulled in a number of directions and have an equal number of agendas.
Gov. Bob McDonnell got the Classic going. Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe wants it to continue. Given what can be accomplished off the court, every state school should make it an obligation and an honor to be on the court for future Holiday Hoops Classics.