NFL veterans join Milford church for 'souper' tailgate party

MILFORD — Tailgating and football are a timeless pair. Adding charity and NFL veterans put Saturday's "Tackle Hunger Souper Bowl of Caring" event over the top.

Pro football veterans Terry Hanratty, who played quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and former New England Patriots linebacker Niko Koutouvides, spent the afternoon playing games with children, posing for photos and signing autographs.

The tailgate, held on the Milford Green, raised $3,794 and nearly nearly 1,000 pounds of food donations for the Beth-El Center and the Milford Food Bank.

Rachel Merva, the missions chair at Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, which hosted the event, said the NFL players were a great addition to the event.

"The two NFL alumni who attended the event were fantastic," said Merva. "They stayed the whole two hours, and they played with the kids, they played cornhole, they wandered around and talked to a bunch of people, signed autographs, took pictures, and were so involved."

She said their involvement started with a simple email to the NFL Alumni Connecticut Chapter.

"I sent an email to Niko, the chapter president, and he sent back an email telling me they would love to support the event," said Merva. "I don't know what I expected, but I thought if they give us 15 minutes, I'd be happy. But the fact they stayed the entire event was generous of them."

The annual Souper Bowl of Caring effort is a youth-inspired movement working across the nation to tackle hunger in local communities.

Troy Gonda, director of development at Beth-El, said these events help not only Beth-El but also other charities like the Food Bank.

"This event, in particular, was heartwarming not just because it was a valued faith partner of ours, but to see people really around this growing need of food insecurity," he said. "This event doesn't just provide us with more food to help people in need, but it helps people feel more connected in making a difference in the community and raises awareness."

At Beth-El, Gonda said food goes quickly at the soup kitchen, and events like these help them stock their shelves.

"Events such as these help us financially to run these operations," he said. "Just like around the nation and the state, we are seeing costs to go up. So it helps us be able to purchase the food we need and keep the operations going as far as staffing and everything that comes with the logistics of running a large food program."

Merva said event sponsors like Buffalo Wild Wings, Subway, Shop Rite and Stop & Shop ensured the 150 people who attended the event had plenty of food.

Those guests, in return, helped pack the shelves at Beth-El and the food bank with donations.

"We received 897 pounds of food in total," she said.