Every NBA season, Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star big man Jarrett Allen has a lot to look forward to. Of course, there’s always him taking the hardwood on a nightly basis, defending the paint and jamming down lobs from Darius Garland. There’s also the daily challenge of what Cleveland’s coaching staff expects of Allen, which he enjoys the mental aspect of, that he looks forward to as well. Mind you, that’s only on the court for Allen. What the star center anticipates more than anything only comes once a year off the hardwood and, to him, it’s bigger than basketball.
Every season, Allen brings together local students near the Thanksgiving holiday and provides them with $100, a grocery list, a calculator and an objective: buy as many of your family’s Thanksgiving essentials all while maintaining a budget. The initiative spurred by Allen is called Meals + Math, which is something he started his rookie season while with the Brooklyn Nets. The objective of Meals + Math is to teach children the importance of budgeting when doing the simple task of grocery shopping, adding up the cost of their groceries with their calculator as they go. The goal is to keep everything within the $100 limit, giving the young students an interesting challenge as they shop.
This holiday season, Meals + Math was entering its sixth year overall and it was the first one Allen was able to host in person while as a member of the Cavaliers. Due to the ongoing global health crisis, Allen was unable to work with the kids directly and unfortunately had to conduct Meals + Math virtually. So, when Allen entered the Giant Eagle on the west side of Cleveland, he was beyond excited and so were the children, rocking wine-colored Allen shirseys, that he was spending the evening with.
“It’s so much better than having to be online and being able to interact with them. I hadn’t even gotten a chance to say hello to the kids before they started screaming for me,” said a grinning Allen to Right Down Euclid. “They just had so much energy and it made it so much fun. It’s just good interacting with them and engaging with them and seeing how they’re doing with the budgeting and everything.”
For Allen, Meals + Math is a perfect fusion of some of his biggest off-court passions: mathematics and community. On one hand, Allen shared with Right Down Euclid that he hopes he can spark a similar passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in these young Cleveland students through their time together grocery shopping. Allen also hopes to turn that spark into a flame as well by providing every student who participated a Microsoft Surface Tablet as well as a pair of Beats EP Headphones in collaboration with Microsoft and Beats by Dre.
On the other hand, Allen also understands the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday season and what his platform means as well. According to the American Farm Bureau, families will spend 20% more this holiday than last year, which in turn, can lead to food insecurity. In Northeast Ohio, many families are impacted by food insecurity, and in the spirit of giving, Allen is hoping to make a difference in some families’ lives this upcoming holiday season.
“The holidays are a time for families to come together,” said Allen. “Food is a barrier for a lot of families right now. So, I’m just trying to break that barrier and bring people, and families, together.”
When things started to wind down and the students began to check out, Allen handed them all $100 Giant Eagle gift cards to pay for their purchase. Some who were way under budget he would encourage them to run back and grab some candy or snacks for themselves. Since, according to Allen, they’re still kids at the end of the day. For the students that went over the $100 limit, Allen would pull them aside and talk with them about how they were over budget and help them better understand the next time they go grocery shopping with their families. After the talk, Allen would take care of the difference no matter the cost and make sure the students go home with enough food with them.
Allen hopes that this one night can make a difference in so many different ways for families all throughout the greater-Cleveland area. To him, it’s the least he can do for a city, and community, that has welcomed him with open arms from the moment he got here. You can always feel it from afar whenever the Cavaliers warm up and Allen takes time to waive to the fans. But, when seeing it in person through initiatives like Meals + Math, the love Allen has for Cleveland is genuine.
“Cleveland has given a lot to me, honestly. And this isn’t just trying to fluff up the city. It’s a great city here and the people are nice and the people are genuine. When they talk to me, they might see a basketball star but in their eyes, they always seem genuine and ask how I’m doing. So, I just want to give back to them and try to help out.”
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times a week on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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