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The Daily Tar Heel

Athletes Team Up, Help Families

Staff Writer

Scissors snipped away at wrapping paper and ribbon flew through the air as UNC athletes came together in the spirit of the holidays to gift wrap presents for needy families.

More than 20 UNC athletic teams -- including the women's and men's lacrosse teams -- are teaming up to sponsor 20 local families in hopes of making their Christmas holidays a little brighter.

Each team sponsored at least one family, donating the money to buy them gifts off their wish lists. The gifts were wrapped on Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon. Some teams personally delivered gifts to their families on Sunday afternoon, but other families wished to remain anonymous.

Sophomore Warren Perry, a member of the men's swim team, said he was proud to participate in the project. "I just honestly think it is one of the most amazing things the athletics department can do -- it shows how athletes can be kind and work to make other people's Christmases a special one."

The effort, spearheaded by the Student Athlete Leadership Council, came out of a collaboration between sophomore Marina Chase, head of the council's division on UNC athletes' community involvement, and Jen Larsen, assistant coach of the women's lacrosse team.

Larsen, who wanted her own team to sponsor a family over the holiday season, caught wind of Chase's efforts and called her in early November.

"I was looking for a new project to involve athletes in the community, so (Larsen) contacted me at a perfect time," said Chase, who competes on both the women's cross country and track teams.

Larsen contacted Durham Social Services to get wish lists from families in need, and together she and Chase worked to inform teams of the project and hand out the wish lists.

Both Chase and Larsen said response from the athletic community has been positive. Although Chase initially planned to involve every varsity team in the effort, the project became so popular that she had to stop advertising the event and begin working on the gift-giving.

"I wanted every team to get involved, but it's been a lot more work than I thought," Chase said. "The teams are really busy, so we decided we had to move into the next stage even though every team had not committed."

Larsen said she felt the project was truly a success.

"I can't believe how this has boomed," she said. "It all came together at the last minute. The support from all the teams and coaches has been tremendous. Almost all the teams are involved."

Senior Eden Rellihan, a member of the women's lacrosse team, said she loved the experience.

"It was really neat to shop for a family and to know their names and stuff," she said. "We got to do this as a team, and that was great. It was good to know we are helping out a family."

When asked about the possibility of UNC athletic teams sponsoring families again next year, Larsen said, "I definitely will make sure that it becomes a tradition. It will be an add-on to the great community service projects UNC athletes can participate in."

Jessica Joye contributed

to this article.

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