Robert Garrett remembers smiling when he saw Eli Manning not passing for a touchdown to one of the wide receivers on the New York Giants but rather, passing a tea cup among a group of elementary-aged girls diagnosed with cancer and in the hospital.
It was a rather typical visit for Manning, quarterback of the Giants, who has made Hackensack Meridian Health a priority in his life over the past few years, in particular the ‘Tackle Kids Cancer’ initiative. Very quietly, often away from the spotlight and cameras, Manning regularly visits children diagnosed with cancer, making these hospital trips to spend a few moments with them. He takes a picture, maybe signs an autograph, often talks football with the parents and the child. But in this one case, football wasn’t being served up.
Instead, it was a tea party being thrown by several little girls in the hospital, all of whom were battling cancer. It was a little moment of imagination for the girls, an escape from the moment by moment reminders that they are in a hospital, dealing with cancer. And it was Manning, the two-time Super Bowl winner, who was equally comfortable sitting down at the little table and drinking pretend tea out of plastic cups.
Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, remembers being a bit surprised at first at not just Manning’s ease but also his willingness to drink tea. But it was something entirely natural for the Giants quarterback, a father of three girls himself.
Not only natural but also something he was entirely willing to do.
“There is nobody more humble and deserving than Eli. He is being recognized for much of the high profile fundraising he has done for us and the community, but its the behind the scenes time he spends with the kids and parents - and his personal generosity that makes everyone at our Children’s Cancer Institute really proud,” Garrett told Metro this week.
“Eli has become a member of the family here, getting to know the Doctors, Nurses, Patients and Families from his many visits. In addition Eli has volunteered to host or lead a number of fundraising events over the past two years, and that's had a big impact on the program.”
On Saturday night Manning is a finalist for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, given out to a player nominated by his team for having “had a significant positive impact on his community.” His work with ‘Tackle Kids Cancer’ and Hackensack University Medical Center is at the forefront of his nomination.
The ‘Tackle Kids Cancer’ initiative was launched last year by HUMC. The initiative benefits the “essential clinical care, support services and groundbreaking cancer research needed to find a cure for pediatric cancer.”
Only four percent of federal funds for cancer research goes to pediatric cancer. The Giants quarterback has made visits a priority in his life as he has also been instrumental in fundraising for the cause, partnering to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year.
Manning is joined by Madison Square Garden and the Garden of Dreams Foundation as the latest ‘Tackle Kids Cancer’ partner. In addition, New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles, currently with the United States national team, has made ‘Tackle Kids Cancer’ his personal charitable cause.
“Eli has taken this very personally – and given of his time with so many of the patients and families at the Institute,” Garrett said. “He is more like a member of the family than a visitor, and the commitment he has made to the ‘Tackle Kids Charity’ has been invaluable. We are so fortunate that he is a Giant and on our team as well.”
Photo attached is Manning at a Tackle Kids Cancer event.