NFL star returns in great faith and feeds hometown of Rahway

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RAHWAY, NJ — Dion Dawkins, a Rahway native and offensive tackle for the Buffalo Bills, returned to Rahway High School on Saturday, April 17, to hand out fresh produce and other essentials, all made possible by his foundation, Dion’s Dreamers. Founded in 2020, the foundation provides mentorship and support to young men and women in underserved communities, as well as those in places of mental, financial or physical hardship.

“Dion’s Dreamers is feeding some families, putting smiles on people’s faces and also giving back,” Dawkins said on Saturday, April 17. “I’ve been doing things like this for close to a decade, and that’s because I started in college. … This is the first thing under Dion’s Dreamers. I went to school here in Rahway, and I’m just giving back to my hometown.”

With the help of more than 60 volunteers, Dawkins and his foundation distributed food to families from Rahway and the surrounding areas. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families were asked to stay in their cars when picking up boxes of food. There was also a walk-up station for those without transportation.

“James Desiderio Inc. is a produce vendor in Buffalo, N.Y. They donated dry items, such as potatoes and beans, which we were able to give to a local food pantry, Rahway Food for Friends. The remainder of the produce and eggs came from Plainfield Produce, which ended up being the main sponsor. We came together and we’re getting it done,” Dawkins said. “Initially, we had about 400 bags packed for families. We have about 150 bags left. We’re going to send them to the food pantries in Rahway and the places here that help do the same thing that I’m doing.”

Born and raised in Rahway, Dawkins played football at Temple University, declared for the 2017 NFL draft and was selected in the second round as the 63rd overall pick by the Buffalo Bills. He is now entering his fifth season with the team. His tremendous work ethic and leadership on and off the field led him to be named one of the Bills’ captains for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

“My football career is definitely great,” Dawkins said. “I have two receivinglike touchdowns, but I’m an offensive tackle. Offensive tackle doesn’t normally catch touchdowns, but I have two. We have a great team. Last year, we made it to the AFC championships, and, next year, we’re hoping to do bigger and better things.”

Dawkins said he gives from the heart but admitted he looks up to former NFL player Antonio Garay Jr., who is also from Rahway and continues to give back as well.

“Just seeing him around and the good things that he was doing made me want to be a better person,” Dawkins said. “Seeing other guys do the right thing made me just say, ‘Let’s jump in the fight and hit this thing together.’”

Dawkins continued, “I think this is going well. Young people out here get to see myself, Antonio Garay and guys that can influence them the same way it has influenced me. Just to get out here, show your face and giving your heart back is what honestly makes this whole thing special.

“I have a lot of things that I want to do, but it seems like it’s flowing in the direction of COVID-19, because there’s certain things that you can and cannot do,” he continued. “Due to COVID-19 and the pandemic, it slows us down from what we really want to do. Since it’s the offseason, I know that I’m going to do another event in Philadelphia in a month and a half, just like this. Any open times that I can, with preparing and getting it done, I’m going to do it.”

As for what’s next, the offensive tackle said his goals are simple: “Continuing to put smiles on faces, getting back to work and continuing to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be.”

Lauren Renschler, who aids Dawkins with public relations and marketing, said Dawkins simply wanted to help out his hometown.

“We have 400 families coming through to grab fresh produce, eggs, dairy, all on behalf of Dion’s Dreamers,” Renschler said on Saturday, April 17. “It was important for Dion and his foundation to make sure they came back to Rahway and gave back to the place that gave him so much while growing up.

“This is something Dion started dreaming of during the football season, about how he can come back and touch as many lives as possible during the offseason, and this is his first event in his hometown of Rahway,” she continued. “It’s been planned for several months, but the first chance he had to come back to his hometown, he wanted to be here and give back. When Dion’s Dreamers was founded, our first goal was to help mentor youth. That’s what he does a lot in Buffalo and really has a passion for, but with COVID-19 and food insecurity, the need being in so many different areas, the idea of getting families fresh fruits and vegetables was very high on his list.”

The foundation also worked with Kaitlyn Davis, the marketing director for Chick-fil-A owner Marlon Terrell, who donated boxed lunches for volunteers at the initiative.

To Renschler, the event was a job well done where it was a group effort.

“As you can see from the turnout of volunteers and the steady flow of cars coming through, it’s been extremely successful,” Renschler said. “Feeding 400 families today, we’ve had a lot of fun, too. This was a well-run, organized event. Tesha Parker, who helps Dion, did an excellent job organizing it. We’ve had over 40 volunteers on-site, helping to stuff bags and hand them out. It’s been a steady stream of cars driving up, and it’s been a COVID-friendly and safe way to feed as many people as possible today.”

Dion’s Dreamers did its first two joint events in Buffalo in November and December, and these proved good practice for the third event in Rahway. The goal is for this to be an annual event.

“This was extremely successful,” Parker said on Saturday, April 17. “It started with us coming in yesterday, and we were able to collect donations to donate to two local food pantries. We then set up a networking event for us to steer how we’re going to navigate our involvement here in Rahway, and that brought out … City Council members, the Board of Directors, the superintendent, the public school board, the mayor, all of his counterparts and it was a really successful event to get started here.

“We’ve had a line two streets over before we started, so it’s been really great,” she continued. “It brought out a large number of volunteers, as well. We began planning this in January and we’ve worked with Danny Garay, here at the high school … Dr. Cary Fields, who is the principal of the high school, she was really great and helped with the last-minute efforts, as well as Joe Brown from the mayor’s office, to really get it together and finalize all the details. This has been a couple of months in the making.

“We have a couple more events planned like this. … We have one in June in Philadelphia and we have another one in Buffalo in July. We’re also going to be setting up programs here, specific to his foundation, so this isn’t the end of our road here in Rahway. … It was a wonderful homecoming for him,” she added.

Also in attendance was Rahway Mayor Ray Giacobbe, who was there to support Dawkins and his foundation. Commending Dawkins for his efforts, Giacobbe said he hopes to see Dion’s Dreamers have another initiative happen again.

“I think this was a great initiative,” Giacobbe said on Saturday, April 17. “Dion comes from this town and felt the need to give back, because of everything that he received from the city of Rahway when he was growing up. But also, he recognizes that food insecurity is a serious issue here, as well as the state of New Jersey and as a nation as well. He saw a void. He decided to come back and help fill that void, while helping out the less fortunate. I commend him.

“The great thing about this city is that we’re a tight-knit community, and we make sure that we tend to and help the less fortunate,” he continued. “I would love to see this happen again. Dion has an open invite to come here whenever he likes to give back. I’m actually working with some of Dion’s people to fill other voids besides food distribution. I would like to thank Dion for coming back to his hometown, but more importantly, giving back. It just shows the character of this young man. He’s great and he has a bright future. I wish him nothing but the best of luck, on and off the field.”

Dawkins’ mother, Lisa Dawkins, also volunteered her time while supporting her son.

“We are doing a benefit for Rahway through Dion’s Dreamers, which is rooted in love and spreading love to all the people of Rahway,” Lisa Dawkins said on Saturday, April 17. “I am just overwhelmed. I’m so proud and so happy that everyone has come out. I think it’s a wonderful thing to come back and give back to where you grew up. Everyone’s here to support him, and I’m as happy as can be.”

Photos Courtesy of Joe Brown