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Anderson's day of thanks

11-22-01, 12:05 a.m.


Willie Anderson knows after practice Thanksgiving morning, he'll hear his teammates say it.

"I'm going to go home and eat like a pig."

"We all say it, don't we?" asked Anderson, the Bengals right tackle.

Up until about two years ago, Anderson would say something like that without thinking. That's when he started donating Thanksgiving dinners to his hometown church in Mobile, Ala., Whitestone Baptist, and to his church in Cincinnati, New Jerusalem Baptist in Carthage.

On Tuesday in Mobile, his mother and pastor oversaw about 2,000 dinners fed to the needy.

"When I first came up with this idea, I figured no one would come," Anderson said. "But people would see me and thank me and then you have an event that gets 2,000 people in back-to-back years, and I realized that these people wouldn't have had Thanksgiving dinner if they didn't go to the church. They would have had nothing."

Instead of doing a Thanksgiving event at New Jerusalem this year,

Anderson plans to expand his usual Christmas party for kids and include dinners and turkeys for the poor and elderly.

He also got an idea from a church in Atlanta that has a unique way of helping the needy during Christmas.

"Help a family pay off some bills," Anderson said. "If there is one big bill that is bogging them down for something they need (heat, auto, insurance) the church would pay it. I'd like to do something like that. Get a board to pick some people that really need it. That's what it's all about."

About a year and a half ago, Anderson signed a deal that gives him $30.5 million over the next six seasons. He knows what that means.

"I've been blessed and this is one of those times God can use you as a tool to get things done. Share his love. Caring for people," Anderson said. "I've got an opportunity not many people have. People get days like Thanksgiving and Christmas mixed up. They think about, 'What can I get?' when really there are a lot of people out there less fortunate."

Anderson has some family coming to Cincinnati for the holiday. He'll be home after practice and there will be plenty of food. Which gets him thinking about more programs.

"We shouldn't just limit it to Thanksgivng,"Anderson said. "It should be year-round. You hear about homeless people, you hear that people are hungry. But when you get so many people who go to something they wouldn't go to unless they really had to, you realize what it means."

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