ND-OSU coaches' wives combine to help feed poor in Phoenix

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

PHOENIX — When Beth Elston heard that one in four children in Phoenix is considered “food insecure,” she couldn’t help but think of her own three kids.

Then, the wife of Notre Dame assistant football coach Mike Elston knew she was right where she needed to be on New Year’s Eve.

While coaches and players from Notre Dame and Ohio State fussed over the last-minute preparations before Friday’s Fiesta Bowl matchup, others on the trip had an early wake-up call to try to make an impact in a new community.

Irish coaches’ wives, children and other Notre Dame support personnel joined four busloads of Ohio State fans and personnel — including Shelley Meyer, wife of Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer — for a service project in a large warehouse Thursday.

The two groups gathered at the oldest food bank in the world (established 48 years ago), St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, to pack 4,000 boxes with a three-day supply of food essentials for about 20,000 people. This was the fourth time Ohio State has chosen the food bank as its Fiesta Bowl service project.

Besides a large contingent of volunteers, Ohio State brought along its pep band for entertainment, and had its mascot Brutus Buckeye work the crowd. Brutus tried to share a fist-bump with Elston’s 10-year-old daughter Olivia, but the true Notre Dame fan would have nothing to do with it.

Beth said getting Olivia out of bed to do manual labor to help people she will never know wasn’t a chore at all.

“She’s a sweet girl,” Beth said of her daughter. “She’s always giving back. She was up before I was this morning.”

The stars of the show, Shelley Meyer and Irish coach Brian Kelly’s wife Paqui, dutifully put a face on the project. But they were more interested in rolling up their sleeves and keeping the assembly line going than mugging for cameras.

“I’m all for the work day (on New Year’s Eve),” Paqui said. “I’m not a late-nighter, especially this week with an early-morning game (11 a.m. Mountain Time).

“There’s a great showing both from ND and Ohio State. The more hands, the easier the workload. At the end of the day, there are people in need and there are plenty of people here to help.

“To get the older kids (of the coaches) out of bed at 7 (a.m.) after five days on vacation… We said, ‘We’ve gotta get these kids up and going.’ And, we did. It was easy to do.”

For Shelley, it was an opportunity to rekindle a few relationships that she had forged from 1996-2000, when Urban was the receivers coach at Notre Dame.

“I did not want to play Notre Dame in a bowl game,” Shelley said. “I don’t like playing friends. I don’t like playing schools we were at. It is special to get re-connected.”

In fact, way back when, it was kinda hard on Shelley when Urban left Notre Dame to be the head coach at Bowling Green.

“You get in your comfort zone, and you don’t want to leave your comfort zone,” Shelley said. “Urban has loved Notre Dame his whole life.”

Everybody enjoyed a chance to work together as friends before the real competition begins.

Even if it was early on New Year’s Eve.

Paqui Kelly, wife of Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, left, and Shelley Meyer, wife of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, work together to back boxes with food on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2015, inside the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn in Phoenix, Ariz. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN via FTP