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Fans, Bengals feast at Taste of NFL

As the CEO of Cincinnati's Freestore Foodbank, John Young always has to be a good scout on the lookout for resources and Thursday night was no different at Paul Brown Stadium as the Bengals hosted one of his organization's biggest annual fundraisers.

"It's a real team, isn't it?" Young asked as food, music and football converged pleasantly at the Taste of the NFL in the PBS West Club lounge. "You can see it when they're out there on the field. They're pulling for each other. There's no bickering. They're all out there together."

As diners mingled with Bengals players and coaches and about 40 of Cincinnati's top eateries during a postcard autumn sunset, Young chatted with Bengals president Mike Brown about exactly that.


"I wanted to thank him for his team backing our team," Young said. "Ever since we've been here they've been one of our most loyal and important supporters. They provide us with this beautiful building a couple of times a year and always volunteer during the holidays at our downtown location as well as throughout the year. We're a good team."

Last year The Taste raised $100,000, a huge number in Young's world of emergency, heartbreak and hunger. Every dollar raised Thursday night makes four meals.

"We gave out 15 million meals last year, so figure out the percentage and how much it means," Young said. "Tonight means about 400,000 meals. Last year we fed 300,000 people in 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. It may be a problem people don't hear much about, but it's one of our biggest problems. When you open up that refrigerator and there's nothing in there for your family, there isn't a more basic need."

Young was also able to stop some players and thank them and he could have grabbed anyone he wanted. With practice and meetings ending at about the time the event started, players and coaches ended their day with a rare social event during the work week. In the nine years of head coach Marvin Lewis' community-minded administration, most of the civic work during the season is reserved for Tuesday's off day.

The Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving has become one of Cincinnati's great holiday traditions, where Bengals volunteer at the Freestore to pack up and hand out dinners just in time for the biggest meal of the year.   

"It's a great way to end practice," cornerback Leon Hall said Thursday, waiting for his wife and son to meet him for dinner. "I've done this every year since I've been here. I always have a great time. The importance of it is obvious, and it's good food and good company. It's a chance to get to interact with the fans and hear what they're talking about."

This was one of Hall's first chances to take the temperature of Bengaldom and he liked what he heard.

"I think the fact we won Sunday and the way we won has got people excited," Hall said of the walkoff 23-20 victory over the undefeated Bills. "I think people are pretty excited about our defense. So are we. But we're just trying not to get too excited. The two losses hurt and we know there's a long way to go. But it's great to come out here and see the fans enjoying the win."

As the defense has done all week in response to its No. 1 ranking in the league, Hall invoked the words of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

"Ask us at Thanksgiving and see how we're doing," Hall said.

That will be another big day for the Bengals and the Freestore.

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