CFL's Tackle Hunger program holds special meaning for Argos' Jamal Campbell
Toronto lineman grew up using food banks and devotes hours to ensuring they have what they need
Jamal Campbell was never quite sure how the box of food ended up at his home while growing up in the community of Jane and Finch in Toronto, but he understood what it meant to his family.
He saw relief and gratitude.
He grew one of four kids to single mother Christine. who he says worked around the clock trying to provide the best life for her children.
"She's a wonderful woman," said Campbell, now an offensive lineman for his hometown Argonauts. "I get my hard work from her. Growing up watching her take care of me and my siblings. She raised us pretty much on her own over the years."
Campbell's family relied on many community services, and Christine paid it back by volunteering the family's efforts at summer camps and other programs, helping to ensure they were there for other families in need.
"It was always important for us to give back," Campbell told CBC Sports. "It helped with character building and me understanding all the blessings that I have."
All these years later, Campbell can fully grasp how vital food banks and other community services were in helping achieve the life he had always imagined for himself.
"Growing up I needed that support and wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for others helping out," he said.
Now, as Canada and the rest of the world battle the global pandemic, Campbell is doing his part to give back.
On Monday, the Canadian Football League launched its annual Purolator Tackle Hunger Initiative in support of food banks across Canada. Normally the campaign would kick off in the midst of the CFL season, allowing fans to bring nonperishable food items to the stadiums, but with the season on hold, the league has started it early with so many people in need.
Since 2003, this employee-led grassroots initiative has helped deliver more than 13 million pounds of food to families across the country. Campbell is doing everything he can to raise awareness about the difference it can make and has made for his family.
This crisis is larger than sports and business. It's about people and life.- CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie
"It's critical," he said. "Growing up we would get our box of food, I was appreciative of it and I know my family was but I didn't understand the full complexity of how it got to us."
In 2019, food banks across the country saw an average of 1.1 million visits per month. One third of them are children. The obstacle for food banks now is they cannot accept physical food donations from the public because of the virus. So, the CFL is asking Canadians to donate money to help the food banks.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the league is doing everything it can to help ease the burden of worrying about being able to put food on the table.
"This crisis is larger than sports and business. It's about people and life," he said.
"In this time of self-isolation and staying apart, it's important to know that we can come together for a cause. The coronavirus and food insecurity affect us all — children, families, communities and at our core, who we are as Canadians. Now more than ever, we must uplift, support and protect one another."
Campbell is deeply introspective and vulnerable. He doesn't shy away from speaking candidly about the long and winding journey he's taken to get this point — he just recently signed a three-year contract extension with the Argos.
On May 22, 2016 Campbell was selected 22nd overall in the CFL draft by the Argos. He said it is one of the greatest moments of his life — his mother and family were all by his side inside their home when the announcement was made, hugging and celebrating.
"There are no words to explain that moment. To get there was a journey and a long process," Campbell said.
The 26-year-old offensive lineman understands fully where he comes from, what he has, and doesn't take any of it for granted — it's what drives him to give back today.
For years, he's been a lead player in helping raise awareness for the CFL's food bank campaign. He's been in food banks, meeting the volunteers and supporting cast who make the food boxes.
"That actually helped me humble myself a little more. It reminded me of when I was younger," Campbell said.
"When you go back years later and see the process, the people, it really goes full circle and shows there's a lot of love out there. That's what we have to stand on right now."
Proud of his Jane-Finch roots
Campbell is relentless in giving back to his community. He still lives in Jane and Finch, a community in Toronto Campbell says has socio-economic issues but one he's proud to call home.
"A lot of people are working and hustling. A lot of people are just trying to make something more of themselves. I think that's where I got my strength from," Campbell said.
"There are going to be a lot of youth coming out of that community and other parts of Toronto who are going to have a great impact on this world. I just want to encourage them on that journey. Just really believe."
In 2017 Campbell was given the Urban Hero Award for his work with youth in the community. He volunteers at after-school programs, food banks, Boys and Girls clubs as well as a number of community sport programs.
He says when he speaks to young children and young athletes, he sees so much of himself in them and wants to remind them of their potential.
"You just see how much ability they have. They don't even understand it. They don't see their greatness," Campbell said.
"We have to continue to show them how great they can be."