Top Kerry play: go & give

Charities his Giant pastime

Six days a week Kerry Collins' life is devoted to football, but Tuesdays are usually reserved for dancing. That's his one off day from his job as the quarterback of the Giants. So he and his wife, Brooke, use it for two-step lessons when they're not just relaxing at home.

But there was no time for dancing two days ago, not with the holidays coming up and so much to do. Kerry and Brooke spent part of their one free afternoon shopping for food for 60 families who otherwise wouldn't have a Thanksgiving dinner today. And that was after a visit to a local hospital, where Collins brought birthday gifts to a critically ill, 17-year-old boy.

It was just a typical day for Collins, whose list of charitable endeavors is long. Nearly three years ago, he came to New York with a tarnished reputation. Since arriving, he's shown nothing but heart.

"I mean, look at my life," says Collins. who's 29. "I've got it easy. I've been afforded things because of what I do. It's a dream, you know?

"I didn't grow up in the greatest area. I didn't grow up with money. These are things that I appreciate because I've seen the other side."

Collins' charity work ranges from large, publicized donations - like the $100,000 he gave the Rusk Institute for the Kerry M. Collins Computer Center and Classroom, and the $500,000 he pledged to renovate Rusk's pediatric rehab unit - to private, one-on-one moments, like the time he spent Tuesday afternoon with Michael Buinno.

Collins met Buinno several years ago when he was holding his annual Thanksgiving event to deliver turkeys and food to the needy, and the two became friends. A few days ago, Collins heard that Buinno had spent his 17th birthday in the hospital. So on Tuesday, Collins stopped by.

"My favorite things are the one-on-one interaction, the low-key stuff," Collins says. "Obviously there are some things with Rusk that have been a little more visible. But the best parts for me are the one-on-one stuff, the visits to Rusk and stuff like that."

There are many things Collins files under "stuff like that." In 1999, soon after arriving in New York, he quietly gave $60,000 to the Harlem Boys Choir to pay for a two-week trip to Israel. In 2000, he gave $10,000 worth of clothing to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of New York at Christmas.

Last year, he gave $125,000 to Ladder 5/Engine 24's family relief fund and spent countless hours at the firehouse after Sept. 11. Subsequently, he gave at least $60,000 to other families who lost loved ones that day.

This weekend, he's treating the Fergus family - mom Linda, 10-year-old Tom and 13-year-old Shannon - to a play Saturday night and the Giants-Titans game on Sunday. Ed Fergus, Linda's husband, was killed on Sept. 11.

Later in the year, Kerry and Brooke will be taking Terrell - a boy Kerry met at Rusk - to the Giants-Cowboys game.

Collins, who turns 30 in late December, has asked friends to hold off on gifts. He asked them instead to donate money to Hudson Cradle. It's a Jersey City home for babies who have been temporarily separated from their parents, and a charity Brooke and a group of Giants wives donate time to every other week.

There's more: phone calls, visits and donations, some that even Collins' closest friends don't know about.

That's the way he wishes all his charity work could be.

"He always wants it to be anonymous," Brooke says. "But he's figured out that in his position you can't really be anonymous on everything. I think now people just know more about him. It's not that this is a newfound Kerry. It's just that people hear about it more often."

Few people heard about his shopping trip on Tuesday. Collins was hardly bothered as he walked the aisles of a Pathmark in Woodbridge, N.J., searching for cans of cranberry sauce, bags of candy and boxes of cereal - the three items on his list. Brooke was in charge of the pumpkin pies and cans of corn. The rest was split up among friends and volunteers from Woodbridge's Avenel Middle School.

In all, Collins bought more than $1,700 worth of turkeys, gravy, stuffing, yams, apple cider and desserts - enough to fill 60 baskets with 60 feasts for 60 needy families. Of all his charitable endeavors, the Thanksgiving shopping trip is one of Collins' favorite things to do.

"This started way back in North Carolina, actually," said Collins, referring to his days with the Panthers. "We started putting some baskets together, some turkeys, that sort of thing.

"There's something about Thanksgiving to me," Collins adds. "Everybody should have a meal."
Nov. 28, 02