Dons goalkeeper Cody Cropper gave up his time and some of his clothes too as he dished out meals at the YMCA today (Wednesday).
The 22-year-old American joined girlfriend Nicola Flaherty in volunteering at the homeless shelter ahead of a busy festive period.
Helping to serve food at the YMCA’s afternoon lunch session - made up of food donated by members of the public - Cropper said helping people is a very humbling experience and helps him realise how lucky he is.
He said: “As a professional athlete, we take a lot of things for granted. The facilities we train at, the food we eat, the number of people who come to see us and we don’t give much back, my housing situation, the car I drive, the lifestyle I live isn’t one many people get to. So coming here is very rewarding.
“Growing up, I was part of the church so we often volunteered. Being with Nicole has brought it out of me a lot more as an adult. And it is something I feel I could do a lot more all year round, even when she’s not around.
“It’s not only good for my personal stature, but also for the club to be giving back. I can drag a few of the lads down here to help. We can always do more, both individually and as a club.”
Nicola lives in Minnesota but is spending Christmas in England this year. A regular volunteer across the Atlantic, she urged boyfriend Cody to find a place for them to help out.
“Normally I’m in Minnesota so usually I find somewhere to volunteer through the university or church,” she said. “But as I’m here this Christmas, I thought it was important that I do something in Milton Keynes if I’m not at home.
“When I was 12, my dad told us we could have one Christmas present a week early, but we’d spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day volunteering, so we’ve been doing it every year.
“At my university in the States, they required us to be very charitable every year. I feel I benefit more from it than I could give to anyone. I find it’s really important, so if you have anything, there’s always something you can give.
“And when there are people who have a lot of good things, and their dreams have come true, they can inspire others to follow their dreams.
“It’s important to do it at this time of year because some people can’t have their families around them. Seeing people going out and doing their Christmas shopping can be a reminder of how tough times are for others. It’s important to help people around.
“We’ve been serving food and giving away some of the clothes Cody doesn’t wear any more, but also talking to people. Sometimes, people want nothing more than to have someone to talk to. Everyone’s story is important.
“It’s really rewarding. It makes everything you have all the more rewarding and makes you appreciate everything you have a whole lot more.
“It’s really interesting. The YMCA does different work than in the United States. It’s more a community centre back home, while here it’s an organisation that gives back.”
Shahnaz Hussain, Fundraising and Events Manager for the YMCA said: “It’s always important to have volunteers. Christmas is a great time to think about giving. For us, it’s important to think about us all year round because the problem doesn’t go away, it just gets highlighted more at Christmas. We have a growing number of people who are homeless. But in MK, you don’t see it because they get moved on early in the morning. We’re a prosperous city, but people don’t really see it. but it’s very real.”
“People volunteering for us is vital at any time,” added Simon Green, Director of Operations. “To have someone with profile like Cody here is fantastic. We’re trying to do so much, and the challenge for us is enormous. More and more people need to find work, and places to live and we’re trying to support them with fewer resources. If we can get people to volunteer, we can help even more people. We’ve got a lot of volunteers, but we always want more.”