BETHANY — In dozens of towns all around the state following Thursday and Friday night football games, school booster clubs and team parents come together. They provide a meal for their players, who spent the last three hours pouring every ounce of energy into representing their school on the football field.
So when plates of pizza, chicken or barbecue are passed out to Putnam City West players it might not seem uncommon.
But it is in this instance. Because the people on the other side of the table dishing out dinner aren't part of any booster club. They aren't a bunch of team moms.
They're just people. And they know some of the players they're serving might not eat another full meal until they return to school on Monday.
Some who volunteer their time and money are PC West alums, while others have no connection to the Class 6A school whatsoever.
Some are simply motivated by a literal belief of the Biblical scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
That's where it all started.
Kim Banz and Kerrie Frazier each live within a couple blocks of the PC West High School campus. Both are members at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, and both saw a television news story in August focused on the football team and the growing poverty level at PC West.
"I just couldn't handle hunger across the street from my house," Frazier said. "I started a fundraiser on Facebook, and Kim called to ask what I was doing. I told her I wanted to feed the boys after the football games."
Before knowing Frazier's plan, Banz had been searching for a way to help.
"I just started to pray, 'What can I do?'" Banz said. "It seemed like a huge task.
"Our job, I think, our responsibility as Christians, is that we can't turn our back. It was one of those things that the Lord would just not let me let go of."
The Oklahoma State Department of Education report on students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals showed that 72.17 percent of the PC West student population was eligible in the 2009-10 school year.
That number likely has climbed significantly this year — possibly as high as 85 percent to 90 percent, one school official said.
For that reason, a meal after a Friday night football game becomes far more valuable.
"At a school where the kids eat two meals a day at school, Monday through Friday, to be fed after expending the number of calories you do in a football game, before you go home for the weekend is a blessing," Patriots coach John Jensen said.
"Sometimes there's even leftover food they can take home for the weekend, and that's a blessing in some of these kids' scenarios."
That statement might be a surprise to those who remember PC West the way it was 35, 25 or even 15 years ago, when it was much closer to middle-class suburbia than inner-city school. It was a surprise to Banz.
"I graduated from here in 1995," she said. "What was heartbreaking to me is that I had no idea. It's literally in our backyards, and we had no idea."
Churches and other groups have donated food to the team pantry that Jensen organized next to the equipment room.
Local restaurants All-American Pizza, Chik-fil-a and Texas Roadhouse have helped with postgame meals. Sometimes 15 or more volunteers show up to pass out food and fresh-baked desserts after games. But it's more than handing a kid some dinner.
They meet the players, learn their names, develop relationships with them. Some offer to drive kids home when they don't have a ride.
"They have a piece of my heart," Banz said. "I have three daughters, and I told my husband I feel like I have a couple of boys now, too."
Jensen has seen physical proof of the value the meals have provided in his players' nutrition this season. The team endured 19 broken bones last season, but heading into Thursday's home game against Sapulpa, there had been five this year.
"It's just awesome that a group of people who are not our parents and do not have kids at PC West are taking care of our kids," Jensen said. "That says a lot about who those people are. That's cool."
However, Banz and Frazier aren't seeking any credit but rather paying it upward.
"The Lord has provided the money and the people for this to be possible," Banz said. "The bottom line is these kids need to know they're valuable and they're loved. They're supported and we want to encourage them."
Frazier and Banz continue to gather funds — all of which go toward the food they provide — through a Facebook page entitled "Prayers for Patriots."
The regular season for football ends next week. The Pats will not go to the playoffs. But the desire to help won't end with the season.
"We just want to raise awareness for these kids," Frazier said. "We want them top know that their community has their back, and we do care about them.
"After the season's over, we don't know where it's going to go, but we want to continue to help this school."