By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Classic rock played on the stereo as Matt Malcom and Anthony Mancini cruised the streets of Kearney, looking for the next address on their list.
Cartons of milk and takeout containers loaded with roasted pork, potatoes and green beans filled the backseat of the Jeep Compass, which served as their delivery vehicle on Tuesday.
“This is my favorite part – getting out of the car,” Mancini joked as they pulled up to a small house in the heart of the city.
The University of Nebraska at Kearney wrestler – wearing a large brace on his left knee and holding a crutch under one arm – is recovering from an ACL reconstruction surgery he underwent last week. But that wasn’t going to stop him from helping people in need.
“In the grand scheme of things, a torn ACL really isn’t that bad,” said Mancini, a graduate student studying higher education student affairs. “There are people who have lost their sources of income and elderly people who can’t go out because of the risk. Yeah, it’s not the most convenient thing for me, but it’s nothing compared to what a lot of these people are facing.”
Like several other members of the UNK wrestling team, Mancini and Malcom are volunteering their time to assist Hot Meals USA, a Kearney-based nonprofit that provides food to people impacted by disasters. The organization recently mobilized in response to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has forced businesses and schools to close and altered everyday life for many Nebraskans.
Supported by donations, Hot Meals USA provides free meals 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Food can be picked up using a drive-through lane in the Museum of Nebraska Art parking lot, 2401 Central Ave., or home delivery is available by calling Kearney Jubilee Center at 308-234-3880.
Hot Meals USA founder and director Dick Cochran expects to serve about 6,000 meals this week, and volunteers are a vital part of that process.
“We’ve had so many young folks down here helping,” Cochran said. “It’s just been such a blessing. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate these guys.”
Led by head coach Dalton Jensen, the UNK wrestling team got involved last week, with student-athletes and coaches lending a hand each day.
“There are a lot of people in need right now. Some people are struggling to even get a daily meal,” said Jensen, who wasn’t surprised by his team’s willingness to step up and help out.
“These guys know it’s important for us to give back to the community, which has been so great to us and supportive of UNK wrestling,” he added.
Malcom and Mancini, who have both volunteered multiple days, didn’t think twice about spending part of their spring break delivering meals in Kearney.
“The community does a lot to support us and I think it’s important for us to give back to them in any we can, especially right now when times are hard,” Mancini said.
A Delaware native, Mancini transferred to UNK from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, where he wrestled for four years. It’s rare to see a city embrace a collegiate wrestling program the way Kearney does, he said.
“That’s why all of us are willing to do whatever it takes to help them out,” Mancini said.
Malcom, an Iowa native studying physical education, agrees with his teammate.
“Everyone knows this has been a tough situation,” he said. “We’re all pretty fortunate to be where we’re at in our lives, but we can’t forget about those who need a little extra assistance.”
As the wrestlers made their way around town Tuesday, the community showed its gratitude with a warm smile and sincere “thank you” at every stop.
“I appreciate what they’re doing,” Kearney resident Jean Johnson said. “I think it’s wonderful. They’re helping out the city and the people who live here.”