Sun honors Griner with donation of shoes, toiletries to homeless center
New London — From her prison cell some 4,500 miles away in Russia, Brittney Griner left a lasting impression on those facing homelessness in the city Thursday morning.
In a league-wide effort to carry on the WNBA star’s “BG Heart and Sole” shoe drive, the Connecticut Sun donated nearly 300 pairs of shoes and roughly 1,000 toiletry items to the New London Homeless Hospitality Center. Additionally, in a partnership with Fidelity Investments, a $2,000 was also presented to the organization.
Morgan Tuck, the director of franchise development for the Sun and Annette Hogan, the manager of community relations, arrived at 10 a.m. with two cars full of donations. The hospitality center’s Development Manager, Annah Perch, along with a few of those staying at the center, helped unpack the cars before bringing the shoes inside to be distributed.
Cathy Zall, the executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, explained how appreciative the organization is for all the donations, especially now while “everything is so expensive,”
“Just to be seen,” Zall said. “That these players see the fact that there are their neighbors who are homeless. I can’t even say what it means.”
Tuck, a resident of Waterford, said the organization wanted to make an impact on a local community through this endeavor. While Hartford may have seemed like a logical location, New London is all of 20 minutes from the Sun’s home court at Mohegan Sun she said.
“The goal is just to help our community,” the former player said. “We have sent some things to Phoenix, but we know there’s homeless people everywhere right? So we though it was a good way to impact the people right here in our community.”
Griner, a seven-time all-star in nine seasons with the Phoenix Mercury, is incarcerated in Moscow. In February, Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport for carrying two vape cartridges with cannabis oil, which is banned in Russia, and has since been sentence to 9 1/2 years in prison.
While negotiations for her return to the United States are on-going, Tuck said the league as a whole is trying to continue on Griner’s work and show the “personal side of her character.”
“We all know her,” Tuck said, who played with Griner in 2018 on Team USA’s World Cup Team. “We just can’t even imagine what she’s going through right now. So it’s like we all want to feel like we’re doing our part, which is very small in the grand scheme of things.”
Zall argued, while big changes are needed to address the homeless situation in New London, the small things help too.
“It’s those little things,” Zall said. “We need big changes too. Toiletries alone are not going to solve our problem. But still, it’s just a little bit more.”
The WNBA has shown it’s community invlovment in recent seasons, most notably during the 2020 season. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to operate in a bubble, all 12 teams dedicated the season to Breonna Taylor.
“No matter what team, what area, what location you’re in, you all get together for a common cause and then it ends up helping out your local community,” Annette Hogan said, the manager of community relations for the Sun. “It’s super special.”
Griner started her “BG Heart and Sole Drive” five or six years ago, Tuck explained, as a way to give back to those facing homelessness in the hot Phoenix sun.
Now, teams and their fans across the country are helping the cause. Hogan said the Sun normally hold a back to school drive at the end of their season, but replaced it with the shoe drive for the team’s last four home games in late July and early August. Fans, players and members of the front office brought in what they could. Now, with the team playing on the West Coast, those most in need are benefiting.
For 55-year-old Todd Watson, who recently became homeless, “It’s a feeling of gratitude.”
“It’s a blessing and I’m a glad to be apart of it,” he said.
Zall hopes those living in the area see endeavors like this as a motivator to volunteer their time for the benefit of the community.
“We’re all in this together,” Zall said. “We’re one community and that what builds up people experiencing homelessness builds up us all.”