EAST HANOVER, N.J. -- LaDainian Tomlinson slipped on his white apron, confident he could handle the hot plates of burgers, fries and chicken fingers coming from the kitchen.
"I'm pretty good dealing with food," the New York Jets running back said with a big smile. "Plus, I haven't had many fumbles in my career, so this should be fine."
Tomlinson and several of his Jets teammates took over an Applebee's restaurant in East Hanover, 20 miles west of the new Meadowlands Stadium in suburban New Jersey, and waited on wide-eyed fans to support wide receiver David Clowney's upcoming trip to Ghana to help underprivileged children.
"David's one of my best dudes, so I just needed him to tell me where to be and I was here," linebacker Vernon Gholston said. "This is like my first extra job outside of football, so this is a little different."
So was watching the Jets players do all kinds of balancing acts and slow walks to make sure the food they were delivering reached their tables.
"I almost dropped a dessert," guard Brandon Moore said, grinning. "But I was OK."
Fans paid $65 for reservations, with $50 of each paid ticket going to The David Clowney Foundation. The wide receiver is raising funds in advance of his trip in July. Over $10,000 was raised. Among the other Jets who helped out were linebacker Bart Scott, quarterback Kellen Clemens, first-round pick Kyle Wilson.
Many of the fans in attendance were decked out in green and white Jets gear.
"It's just a great thing having the support of my teammates and the fans to help with this," Clowney said. "I've been jumping around since I got here and having fun with everybody."
Clowney spent three days in Haiti in March as part of a missionary group that included Gholston, teammate James Ihedigbo and former Jets cornerback Ahmad Carroll. They worked with members of Yele Haiti, musician Wyclef Jean's charity, to help with the relief and recovery efforts following the earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000 and left 1.3 million homeless in January.
Inspired by that experience, Clowney decided to head to Ghana to help children in that West African country. The mission, scheduled for July 3-10, will include a visit to a hospital, a school in Kumasi and an orphanage in the capital city of Accra, and then he'll set up a game to teach the children about American football.
"We're working out all the kinks right now, but the plans are coming together and I'm looking forward to it," said Clowney, who said he has a closetful of clothes that he'll also be bringing with him to Ghana.
"It's such a good cause," Tomlinson said. "He's helping the kids and trying to bring football out there, and that's a great thing because the sport teaches so many things they can use in life."
Clowney's foundation worked with Wayne Kaiser, Applebee's area director, and Kurt Pahlitzsch, Applebee's director of operations, to rent out the entire restaurant in support of the Jets receiver's cause.
"We felt it was a great partnership," said Pahlitzsch, a diehard Jets fan. "Applebee's is tied into real kids and real families, and David Clowney is really involved with helping kids. It made it all worth closing the restaurant for a night for this."
Tim Bargiel of Woodland Park, N.J., and his wife, Dina, and their kids Antonio and Ariana were waited on by rookie running back Joe McKnight.
"He did great," said Dina Bargiel, whose family has had Jets season tickets since Joe Namath's rookie year. "All these guys have been doing great, sitting and talking with all of us."
Clowney auctioned off several signed Jets jerseys and helmets, and also playfully encouraged the fans to participate in some rookie hazing.
"Harass some of those rookies and send them back and forth to the kitchen as much as you like," Clowney said over a microphone, drawing laughs.
Undrafted free agent defensive end Jason Lamb made his way from the kitchen at one point balancing three plates of food, a move Scott left to the rookie.
"I was going to try that three-tier thing, but I thought I better not," Scott said. "I did taste a fry or two on the way out, though. You know, to make sure it was done."
Pahlitzsch reported that none of the Jets players, who worked alongside the Applebee's normal wait staff, fumbled any food.
"I'm amazed at how talented these guys are, even away from the football field," Pahlitzsch said. "Definitely a fun night."