BEYOND THE GRIDIRON   Christopher “C.J.” Hanson, a 2019 graduate of DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne, has volunteered to spread love to Department for Persons with Disabilities residents since he was a child. The Kansas City Chiefs recently selected him in the 2024 NFL draft.

Inspired Catholic Charities volunteer, C.J. Hanson, drafted into NFL by Chiefs

The Christmas party quickly kicked into full swing. The cafeteria of DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne bustled with activity as staff, football players, and “football moms” had fun spreading holiday cheer to residents of the Department for Persons with Disabilities (DPD).

The Spartans football players led the festivities — dancing with their physically and developmentally disabled guests and helping them make ornaments. At the party, Christopher “C.J.” Hanson was leading by example — helping show some of his teammates how to make their visitors feel welcomed and loved by talking and laughing with them.

A 2019 DePaul graduate, Hanson, now 23, smiles thinking back to when he was a student brightening the lives of DPD residents at those Christmas parties, coordinated by his mother, Dianne Macchia. The talented athlete then went to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where he was captain of the football team in his final year. He graduated there last Decem­ber. On April 27, Hanson and his family rejoiced when he was selected in the seventh round (248th overall) of the 2024 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, back-to-back Super Bowl champions.

Described as a “gentle giant,” Hanson, who stands at 6 feet 5 inches, has demonstrated leadership on and off the gridiron, especially when serving — and caring for — others. A few years ago, he invited his Holy Cross teammates to lift residents’ spirits at a Christmas in July party at Barnet House, a DPD group home in Pompton Lakes. DPD is part of Diocesan Catholic Charities.

“Serving DPD means the world to me. The residents had hard times, but you saw their joy when working with them. That made my team and me smile,” said Hanson, inspired to volunteer by the organization’s care of his great-aunt, Sissy. She lived in Wayne Marathon House, which became Barnet House. Hanson equated volunteering to playing on a football team — “taking care of each other and looking out for everyone.”

Hanson’s service to DPD started as a child. He has two siblings, Timmy, 26, and Katy, 24. Macchia first connected with DPD residents and staff at a repast she held for Aunt Sissy in her house when Hanson was a kindergartener. Soon, Macchia recruited friends to buy Christ­mas gifts for residents, which grew into Christmas and pool parties at her house.

Almost 10 years ago, DePaul granted a request by Hanson, an alumna, for it to start holding the Christmas parties, which were growing larger. The school also held Valentine’s Day parties and a luau for residents from many DPD group homes and supervised apartments.

“The parties were events of service and love. The football players looked forward to it. C.J. walks the walk. People saw how he welcomes our residents and was comfortable with them,” said Joanna Miller, DPD executive director. “C.J. worked hard to get to the Chiefs. We are surprised and thrilled. He always will be part of the DPD family.”

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