SANTA CLARA -- What’s the difference between Anquan Boldin and Santa Claus? Boldin’s largesse isn’t limited to late December.
Last week, the 49ers receiver’s foundation helped hand out Thanksgiving meals to 900 families in his hometown of Pahokee, Fla. Next month, he’ll provide toy-shopping sprees for underprivileged kids in Pahokee and the Bay Area.
On March 11 – the day he was traded from Baltimore to San Francisco – he was in Senegal with Oxfam America to help villagers who’d been pushed out of their homes by gold mining companies.
It seems that every offseason, the 49ers bring in a high-profile pass catcher to bolster their receiving corps. Whether it’s been Antonio Bryant, Darrell Jackson, Braylon Edwards or Randy Moss, those experiments haven’t lasted more than a season. (And in the cases of Bryant and Edwards, fell apart much sooner than that.)
In Boldin, who will be a free agent at the end of the league year, the 49ers finally have someone worthy of keeping around.
He’s a veteran who plays receiver with the power and grit of a fullback. Boldin, 33, leads the team with 630 receiving yards, and he’s on pace for 1,000 yards this season. Want some contrast? The next-most-prolific wide receiver on the team, Mario Manningham, has 38 yards.
Boldin is equally intense about his charity endeavors.
He grew up poor in Pahokee, a city on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee where nearly 30percent of the population is below the poverty line. In fact, Boldin said that as a child he had no idea he was poor because everyone else in the community, known to locals as Muck City, was just like him.
By the time the Cardinals drafted him in the second round in 2003, he’d made it his mission to give back. In that first year, Boldin wanted to do so anonymously and rejected the idea of starting a foundation.
“I felt like, hey, if it’s coming out of my pocket, I don’t have to have a newspaper or news station doing a story on it,” said the famously serious and taciturn receiver. “I just wanted to be able to do it behind closed doors.”
Community members, however, convinced him he could do more good – and attract more donors – by starting a foundation. And by his second season, Q81 was begun.
Around this time of year, it serves dinners. People line up for baskets filled with green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and 15-pound turkeys.
Boldin’s foundation usually passes out 300 meals. This year, fellow Pahokee High School products Janoris Jenkins, a cornerback for the Rams, and Dwight Bentley, a cornerback with the Lions, also contributed.
Q81 also funds scholarships through the University of Phoenix. Boldin said one of his favorite stories was about a boy who dropped out of high school as a ninth-grader. Boldin’s foundation convinced him to get his GED, awarded him a four-year college scholarship and today the boy, now a man, is a schoolteacher.
On Sept. 27, 2007, a collision in the end zone left Boldin with fractures to his face and jaw that required 40 titanium screws to repair. The ordeal put him in contact with a dental surgeon, and after he recovered, he started a program for kids who needed help.
“We had this one young lady who would never smile because of the structure of her face, the dental problems that she had,” Boldin said. “We ended up getting her the surgery, and she’s like a completely different person now, smiling all the time.”
Boldin said that perhaps his most important endeavor is to get teammates more involved with helping others.
He learned just how much sway an NFL player holds last spring, when he returned from his trip to Senegal. He secured a meeting with Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the chairman of the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee in the House.
Smith invited Boldin to return in July to testify about the abuses in Senegal. Boldin did, and the speech he gave that day helped prompt better legislation to protect the people there.
Boldin said he plans to go back to Africa in the coming offseason to aid women’s micro-finance initiatives – essentially, women in rural areas who serve as lenders for their communities.
“Women are usually pretty good with money,” he said with a laugh. “We trust them with it more than the men.”
Boldin said he’s trying to convince some of his 49ers teammates to join him on the trip.
“I can influence a couple of people here and there,” he said. “But these guys just don’t understand how much power they have if they come together. Just imagine 10 of us 49ers players where we have one specific agenda. You’re going to grab a lot of attention.”
Added Boldin: “That’s a lot of power.”
Read Matthew Barrows’ blogs at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320.