New Orleanians, Social Causes, Volunteering

More than a tailgate: Saints fans use games to give back to the community

For the second time this season, Allen Keller and his friends are able to give to the homeless.

For Allen Keller, Sunday’s Saints game against the 49ers is more than just a chance to tailgate with friends or watch the NFC South champs pave their road to the Super Bowl.

What started out as a yearly effort to give back to those less fortunate has snowballed, via friends and social media, into something much bigger.

“My wife, Dyanne, and I have always been into giving back, whether it be through the church, local organization or just helping friends,” Keller said.

In about 2014, Keller said after home game tailgates with his friends Craig Heisser and Willie Stokes III, who secured a tailgate spot on Loyola and Perdido streets, he’d go to the homeless under the Claiborne Bridge and give them leftovers, snacks and water.

“It was nothing extraordinary, but they were always grateful for whatever,” Keller said.

But giving people “leftovers” just wasn’t sitting right with him.

“I didn’t like the feeling of giving them our ‘scraps,’” he said. “I believe everyone deserves dignity, so that approach was disturbing me a bit. Now, I try to make a separate, fresh hot meal for our homeless friends. So, it’s no longer ‘leftovers.’ It’s a fresh meal.”

That meal also comes with other necessities — clothes, socks, blankets and toiletries. The effort began when Keller asked for donations via his Twitter page, and like wildfire the news started spreading.

For the home game against the Atlanta Falcons (which also happened to be Keller’s 38th birthday), the group was able to make a huge impact.

When it was over, though, the donations didn’t stop.

“The momentum continued; it continued to snowball and donors kept asking how they could get involved,” Keller said. “So it’s my pleasure to continue, but I also feel it’s my humanitarian obligation to continue helping our most unfortunate friends on a bigger scale. Donations and packages have come from as far as Hawaii and the talks (about) our mission have reached the likes of Stan Verrett from ESPN, who graciously contributed. So we decided to do a “Holiday edition” of our tailgate/give-back on Dec. 8. I truly cannot name everyone that has chipped in, but I’m grateful, and I can assure everyone our friends that we help are absolutely grateful,” he said.

Keller said as well as his wife, it was important to partner with people in the city (he drives in for home games from Baton Rouge).

“A ton of credit goes to NOLA Natives, Donna Dawson and Kateria Lee,” he said. “A lot of deference goes to them. They’ve been essential in organizing and having great ideas about the whole mission.”

Keller added another friend, Rachel Tuminello, who has been essential with donations from her local network, and he couldn’t do all of the work without the ladies’ help.

“It just felt necessary to get women directly involved in the organizing and the details,” he said. “From the ideas of color-coded bags to a concentration on feminine-specific supplies, they’ve been nothing short of amazing.”

Keller said he and his friends hope the giveback spurs someone else to think about how they can help those in need. He’s even planning another giveback outside of the Saints season, closer to Mardi Gras next year.

“Philanthropy can absolutely be contagious, so maybe this could spark action for someone else to get involved in whatever idea they may have,” he said. “I don’t really like attention, but I don’t mind it if it somehow makes the world a better place.”