Christmas is a time full of traditions. Decorating the tree. Leaving milk and cookies for Santa. Gathering in the morning to unwrap gifts. And at Saint Joseph's, with its high-profile men's basketball team, it is a time of giving back. And, like the past seven Christmas seasons, the Hawks did just that with their annual shopping trip for needy families in Our Lady of Sorrows Parrish. This year, the SJU players and coaches continued what has become one of the top charity programs in college basketball, by raising slightly over $1200 for three families. The Hawks shopped, wrapped and delivered the gifts to the families in the span of one week. They did all this while also studying for finals and preparing to defeat DePaul as delivery was the day after SJU's 65-62 win at the Palestra on December 21. "We are fortunate as players and coaches at a Division I program," states SJU head coach Phil Martelli. "We get a lot of accolades and notoriety. And I think it is really important that we understand, particularly during the season of Christmas, that there are things that are much bigger than us. There are people in need." "And if we can for a moment in time give these people something to feel good about, then it is our responsibility to do just that. And that is why it should be part of this basketball program." When Martelli gathered his senior captains eight years ago to decide how to give back to the community, this was the project that was agreed upon. It was so successful the first year, that now it has become a staple of what the Hawks are about. "It is not even talked about anymore (about doing a different type of charity)," explains senior co-captain Phil Martelli, Jr. "It is something that we all want to do. We want the new guys to experience this since it is such a great thing. If I could do it ever year for the rest of my life I would do it. Just because of the feeling you get from it and the connections you make with people that you really would never talk to or have any interaction with." "This is what we are," adds senior center Alexandre Sazonov, who has gone through the experience five times in his Hawk career. "It is not a Jesuit Tradition or something we do because we have to do. It is because of who we are." Lots of programs raise money for charity, or visit hospitals, but it is the interaction with families that makes what the Hawks do each year something special. "Being from a small town in East Aurora (NY), where people are middle class and upper class, and seeing a poor family and the things they do not have allowed me to have a new perspective on the whole giving process," states freshman Dave Mallon, a newcomer to the team and the event. "I had to shop for a three-year old little girl and when she opened her Elmo doll she was really happy. She did not put it down the whole time. It was so nice." It is a feeling, seeing smiles on other less fortunate faces, that never tires for the Hawk players. "I knew how much I enjoyed it last year and I kind of knew what to expect this year," explains sophomore Pat Carroll. "It is just such a great feeling when you do it." "We got a dump truck for a two-year-old boy that could move on its own if you pulled a lever," adds senior Mike Farrelly, recently named to Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit Honor Society. "He was moving it on his own between me and DJ (Dwayne Jones) for a half hour and it made him so happy to be playing with this truck and rolling it back and forth between us. It was not just the toy, but playing with us that made him happy as well." Martelli, who has put Saint Joseph's back on the national map as a basketball program, puts it all in the proper perspective. "This is bigger than basketball because at Saint Joseph's you are supposed to give back and we are trying to teach these young men that their education goes beyond the classroom and beyond the court."
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