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Never far from home: Gainesville's Deshaun Watson feeds local first responders, ER staff in response to COVID-19 outbreak
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Gainesville graduate and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson covered the cost of meals to feed police officers, firefighters and emergency room workers Tuesday from the Longstreet Cafe in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by Tim Bunch I For The Times

Gainesville residents have grown used to watching Houston Texans and former Red Elephant quarterback Deshaun Watson dish out touchdowns in Houston on Sundays, but this week he’s serving something up a little closer to home. 

On Tuesday, Watson teamed up with Longstreet Cafe to provide lunches for the Gainesville police and fire departments, as well as emergency room staff at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. Watson provided the funds for the meals, and Longstreet prepared food and shipped it out to where it was needed. The lunches will keep coming through Friday of this week, according to Longstreet Cafe owner Tim Bunch.

“That’s just who Deshaun is,” Bunch said of Watson’s donation. “He is a lot better person than he is a football player.” 

The idea came together when Watson got into contact with Free Chapel staff pastor Michael Thurmond earlier this week to discuss ways to help out the community. 

“We just kind of put our heads together and decided we need to help the people who are on the front lines, who are out there who don’t get to go home for lunch,” Thurmond said. “The nurses, the doctors, policemen and firemen. Those guys.”

Thurmond and Watson were already familiar with Bunch — both being big fans of Longstreet — so they got in touch to make a plan. Thurmond’s wife Ashleigh did much of the groundwork, making calls and setting up logistics, and within a day the plan had come to full fruition. 

On Tuesday, Longstreet Cafe shipped out care packages of fried chicken, green beans mashed potatoes and banana pudding to a grateful group of emergency responders. 

“It’s made a huge impact, especially coming from someone of Deshaun’s magnitude,” Gainesville Police spokesperson Sgt. Kevin Holbrook said. “To know that he still thinks about us and he cares about his hometown, it really means a lot to us.”

Holbrook said he, along with much of the department, has enjoyed watching Watson grow up from a high school standout to national star over the last 10 years while still maintaining the humble personality that made him just as popular in Gainesville as his athletic ability.

Watson’s actions to help out his hometown during a time of need are appreciated, but not unexpected to those who know him. 

“He has never really forgotten his roots, and he’s never forgotten those people who have helped him get to where he is today,” Holbrook said. “We do greatly appreciate that. It really means a lot to us.”

The donation has provided immediate help and relief for emergency responders and also helps out a local restaurant during a difficult economic climate. 

From here, Thurmond is just hoping Watson’s generosity rubs off on the rest of the community.

“It’s a blessing all the way around, and hopefully it inspires other athletes, leaders, businesspeople to follow suit,” Thurmond said. “We can’t do everything, but we can all do something.”

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