“The impact I can have on a community,” he said, “is way more important than putting a ‘W’ in the win column.”
With the Meals for McMahon program, Queiroga, the Senators’ head coach for the past two years, is helping to make that kind of impact.
Run by Queiroga and BMHS teacher Nick Banas, Meals for McMahon raises money through donations to send dinners to students and their families who have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also helps support local restaurants, as donations designated for the program are spent at those businesses, which, in turn, deliver meals to families.
“When this started, I was thinking about my players,” Queiroga said. “We always preach family in football, giving back to the community and taking care of one another.”
With around 80 players in the football program, there were certainly those who would be in need and Queiroga, like many coaches, refers to them as “my kids.”
“Where we are in Norwalk, I have a lot of kids who come from single-family homes,” he said. “And I knew a lot of my kids had parents who had jobs where they most likely weren’t working. I just wanted to make an impact on the community and it seems to be working pretty well.”
When Queiroga and Banas connected, they also recognized the everyday difficulties students may face while social distancing and learning from home — challenges that go far beyond logging into their classes via computer.
“Some of these kids are working because their parents can’t, or some of these kids have a hard time checking into the computer because they have to watch their little brother and sister while their parents go to work,” Queiroga said. “Let’s focus on feeding those families, because it’s hard to focus on schoolwork when you don’t know what you’re going to eat that night.”
For Queiroga, the program hits home, touching a place in his heart that reaches back to childhood.
“My parents are both immigrants; they came to this country, they didn’t speak English and they were poor growing up,” Queiroga said. “They didn’t have classes for English second language students back then, and they had to work. My mom’s from a family of 10 and my dad’s from a family of six and my grandmother raised six on her own. I heard stories over the years about how they came here and people helped them out.
“Obviously, in Norwalk, we have a lot of people who are immigrants and people where English isn’t their language. Being a coach, having those stories in my head about how my parents grew up with people helping them, and then connecting with Nick (Banas) and his idea — all that combined and we created Meals for McMahon.”
Meals for McMahon includes four restaurants, all of which have previously supported the high school and its athletic department: Partners Cafe and Pizzeria on Cove Avenue, JR’s Deli and Grille on Riverside Avenue, O’Neil’s Irish Pub and Restaurant on North Main Street, and Planet Pizza on Main Avenue.
Queiroga said these restaurant owners have hung banners in the stands for games, donated to the golf fundraiser, and supplied the teams with pregame meals.
“They’re always helping us out, so we thought we could help out those places,” Queiroga said.
Anyone who wants to donate to the program can call one of those restaurants on behalf of Meals for McMahon, Queiroga said.
Callers can donate an amount via credit card, and that restaurant will report the amount available to Queiroga who, in turn, will make sure the meals are going to families in need.
“Families have said if they can get one meal a week, that really helps,” Queiroga said. “I spend about two hours every morning going through that list, texting the kids, and setting up the deliveries.”
The Meals for McMahon program began following the football team’s March Madness fundraiser, which traditionally raises money for things like practice jerseys. With COVID-19, community and friendship became more important.
Queiroga and Banas had separately contacted BMHS Principal Scott Hurwitz about doing something to help the families of students in need, and Meals for McMahon was born.
Queiroga first reached out to football players to help identify families who need help. The players were excited to join the effort, he said, and rallied to help their teammates and classmates.
“They’re super-proud that the football team is associated with this,” Queiroga said.
The personal touch from teachers, coaches and friends, helped students overcome their fears about asking for help.
“I have a tremendous relationship with my football players, and I like to think that I’m a figure in a school who has a very good relationship with the students,” Queiroga said. “So I reached out to kids, and said it’s not a time to be proud, let me buy you a pizza.
“Some people would say, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to make it up to you,’ and I said, ‘You don’t have to make it up. Just do your homework and make good decisions. That’s what’s important.’”