NASHVILLE – Kevin Byard arrived at the Jefferson Street Bridge on Tuesday night, and was greeted with a huge smile.
A homeless man had dropped his baseball cap, and as Byard walked by, he picked it up and handed it to the man. Seconds later, the man realized it was the Titans safety who happened to be walking by at just the right moment.
The two men chatted, and shared a warm greeting.
Many more smiles followed on a night when the Titans teamed up with NFL officials and the Bridge Ministry to deliver meals to the homeless community during the week of the NFL Draft.
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk was on hand, along with a half-dozen players, cheerleaders and alumni. Members of the NFL Social Responsibility team, Community Relations, and other staffers from the NFL also took part in the event with The Bridge Ministry.
"We are so glad to be partners with the Bridge Ministry and to have our NFL partners and friends here tonight to see how it's done here in Nashville," Strunk said after addressing the crowd. "It just means a lot to our players, our coaches and our entire staff of the Titans.
"I know it means a lot to these folks, but it means a lot to us that we can give back to the community."
Candy Christmas, CEO/Founder of The Bridge Ministry, thanked the team and everyone involved for their support.
Bridge Ministries is a grassroots non-profit that seeks to address poverty and homelessness in the Nashville area through faith-based programming and by providing everyday necessities to those they serve. The Jefferson Street Bridge is home to the largest homeless population in Nashville, with roughly 300 to 500 homeless showing up for meals every Tuesday night.
"For the homeless, it is very encouraging to them that people like the Titans and for Amy Adams Strunk to come down and recognize them," Christmas said. "A lot of these people feel like they are outcasts from society and their families, so for the Titans to come down and recognize them, it is a shot in the arm."
Tina Tuggle, the Titans Community Relations Director, said Tuesday night's event was part of the Huddle for 100 initiative for the NFL.
In addition to Byard, Titans tight end Delanie Walker, receiver Corey Davis, punter Brett Kern, kicker Ryan Succop, and safety Damon Webb also helped deliver meals to the homeless.
Former Titans safety Blaine Bishop and the team's cheerleaders also took part in the event, and mingled with members of the homeless community. NFL Network's Tiffany Blackmon was also involved.
"You feel like you are doing it to bless other people," Succop said, "and you kind of walk away feeling the most blessed, and that's pretty cool."
Kern agreed it's a blessing.
Five years in a row the Titans have teamed up with The Bridge Ministry to feed the homeless a Thanksgiving meal. Roughly 120 members of the organization– from players to coaches to members of the front office – took part in the event last November. So did other staff members, along with the Titans cheerleaders. Family members joined the group as well.
"The Bible calls us to be able to serve the poor, and to be able to come out here and put a smile on their faces, maybe pray with them, it is special. To be able to give back to them is special to us."
An estimated 500 men, women and children from the homeless community turned out on Tuesday night.
Every Tuesday, the homeless gather under the bridge, located not far from where the Titans play on Sundays, and just a few miles from the team's practice facility in Metro Center.
Christmas said Nashville has 11,000 homeless in the city, and she said the Bridge Ministries serves 4,000 children each week. She was happy to see so many smiles on Tuesday night.
So was Byard.
"Guys are coming up to us, shaking our hands, telling us how great it is for us to be here," Byard said. "You have no idea what it can do for their day, their month, maybe even their year, you never know.
"I come from humble beginnings, so any time I can give back, I am going to do it. No matter if we are in the NFL or not, we are all equals. You just try and put a smile on someone's face."
Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk and a half-dozen players teamed up with NFL officials and The Bridge Ministry to deliver meals to the homeless community. (Photos: Donn Jones)