Salukis have a heart for the underprivileged on Christmas

By Gus Bode

Santa can take a few days off as the Salukis look to bring holiday joy to southern Illinois.

The SIU men’s basketball team will host a Saluki Basketball Toy Drive to benefit disadvantaged children in the area during the holiday season. Leading up to the holiday season,  Saluki fans are encouraged to bring new or used toys to the SIU Arena to donate to the cause. In return, each donor will receive a $5 coupon to use towards a Saluki men’s basketball ticket.

Growing up in an atmosphere where his family was always giving, freshman center Harry Whitt is spearheading the toy drive. He said this is a great opportunity to spread holiday cheer and to benefit the charity’s donors, too.


“The community has warmly welcomed me in the short time I’ve been here, and this is a way to give back,” Whitt said. “No one gets to where they are without being given an opportunity or a little help. Just giving a kid a toy can help spark their imagination, which is really important.”

Whitt said the goal is to gather 500 toys, each of which will be given to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program for distribution to underprivileged children in the southern Illinois region.

Junior guard Kendal Brown-Surles said he has always had compassion for those less fortunate during the holiday season, especially children.

“Anytime you have the chance to give, take the opportunity,” Brown-Surles said. “I was raised on the fact that it’s always better to give than receive. The fact that I know I’m making someone smile for just a moment is something that will always stick with me.”

Brown-Surles said there are a lot of people who don’t have families, and for them, holidays are just regular days.

“I love children,” Brown-Surles said. “I never had an older brother or sister coming up, so just that feeling of having someone to look up to I never experienced.  All I know is how my younger brothers and sisters look at me when I’m able to do something for them, and that look is priceless.”

Freshman guard Josh Swan teamed up with Whitt to push the cause. He said he has always been interested in doing charity work, and his motivation came from his parents.


“My mom and dad have always taught me to give back,” Swan said in an interview on WSIL-TV. “My dad is actually a mentor and has been doing it for 10 years. Just seeing him in action doing those things and giving back to the community made me want to come out wherever I am and help the less fortunate.”

By participating in charitable events, Swan said the players will be a good influence on children who attend games. He said he hopes everyone contributes to the cause.

“It’s important for everyone to bring as much as they can or as little as they can,” Swan said. “Anything will do. We just hope to get a great turnout.”

The Salukis said they look forward to seeing smiles on the faces of the children and hope to have a huge impact on their lives.