PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Timbers and Thorns’ week of community service has rebounded in 2021, but because the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited in-person events in last year, a number of the club’s players had never experienced Stand Together Week ,before. Even now, a schedule of events that was well into the thirties before 2020 is recouping its numbers. Twenty events made up this year’s Stand Together Week calendar.
One of those events took place at Veteran’s Memorial Colosseum on Thursday, Sept. 9. That’s where four Thorns got their first taste of the week’s service. Helping inventory and organize supplies for area veterans, Crystal Dunn, Rocky Rodríguez, Abby Smith and Sophia Smith were part of a group supporting Transition Projects, an organization dedicated to helping Portland’s homeless. The group’s annual Portland Veterans Stand Down, slated to take place Sept. 10, hopes to provide connections to services, employment and wellness.
“It's always fun being able to give back to the community that supports us so much,” Abby Smith said, “especially knowing that this specific Stand Together event is giving back to people who really put their life on the line or have put a lot of effort and time into giving to their community.”
Smith may be the newest Thorn, but her connection to Portland stretches back farther than most. On August 16, Smith was acquired by the Thorns as part of a deal that sent United States Olympian Adrianna Franch to Kansas City. Though her connection to the Rose City wasn’t widely known then, the trade helped highlight the fact Smith was born in Portland before moving to Texas when she was young.
Come Thursday, she had been back in Portland for just over three weeks. Transition Projects was her first chance to connect with the community.
“We are not only athletes,” Smith said. “We care about more than performing on the field. We really do want people to live well and happy, and know that mentally, physically, emotionally, we want to be there to support them, because they're supporting us.”
Smith joined her teammates in sorting through the boxes of donated for the Stand Down. Most of the apparel came from Columbia Sportswear, who joined the event’s partner, Umpqua Bank, in having volunteers at the event. From over a dozen boxes, the Thorns organized clothing into various categories — outwear versus base layers; male versus female cuts; shorts and pants separated from tops — before incorporating them into the event’s larger assembly line.
On Friday, each person in need would be getting get a duffle bag and various other items donated by the Department of Defense. Sleeping bags, pads, and other shelter materials would be part of almost every person’s care package, whether they have an immediate need for them or not. So many of those items, an event coordinator explained, end up as part of the economy of traded material hopeless people use to survive. After those, clothes are added as needed, eventually joining an information packet, food, and potentially pet food. Donations checked several different boxes.
“Me and Rocky had side conversations about how great it is to be a part of a team, because we were so efficient,” Dunn said. “We would full, put it away, color organized: here we go. We were on a roll. It was really nice to feel like you're involved with a team outside of soccer.”
Soccer has been even more in focus than usual this week for the Thorns. Come Thursday afternoon, the team had undergone four-straight days’ training ahead of a Friday flight to North Carolina, where Portland would be facing the NWSL’s second-place team, the North Carolina Courage. Together, the Thorns and Courage (or, the team the Courage were before moving to North Carolina) have claimed 10 of the last 11 trophies the NWSL has awarded, and while Portland has a strong regional rivalry with the Tacoma, Washington-based OL Reign, the Courage have been the Thorns’ chief rival over the past five seasons.
That dynamic brings a different intensity to a North Carolina Courage week. Roughly 18 hours before their flight departed, the Thorns relished a shift of focus.
“It's so important to step outside your world, step outside your bubble,” Dunn said. “It's so easy to get caught up in your job. It's nice to be part of these events because for the first time in weeks, maybe, we get to actually relax and take my focus off of us and put it toward helping others. Just a soothing feeling.”
By the end of the event, Smith was sounding a note most athletes hit during Stand Together Week. “I feel like it's fun to start with a week of Stand Together,” she said, speaking for her fellow first-timers, “but I feel like we can also grow and make it more than just a week, give back.” Many Timbers and Thorns contribute to Stand Together throughout the year. For Smith, Thursday may have been a first step to joining that group.
For each of the Thorns, Transition Projects showed what Stand Together is all about, but for over the year, before, service had to be at a distance. Now, PTFC’s players have been able to get back involved.
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