Will Smith Subs for Jonathan Vilma at Foundation Fundraiser

This year’s New Orleans Saints have made “Next Man Up” their mantra. When linebacker Jonathan Vilma had an emergency and couldn’t make it to Morton’s Steakhouse for a Celebrity Server fundraiser for the Jonathan Vilma Foundation Monday night, defensive end Will Smith stepped up to act as host.

Jonathan Vilma (front right), Will Smith (over his shoulder), Saints and the Lombardi Trophy at Morton's in 2010.

“I was coming anyway,” Smith said. “So I said, ‘Not a problem.’ They’ve got a great idea, having celebrities serve fans of the celebrities, and it’s for a good cause, Jonathan’s foundation.” The Jonathan Vilma Foundation has focused on helping to rebuild and support a school in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and the sold-out fundraiser at Morton’s was a $400 a plate four-course dinner served by members of the Saints including Thomas Morstead, Malcolm Jenkins, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Sedric Ellis, with a silent and live auction to further the fund-raising.

Earlier this year, Vilma’s foundation made a $50,000 grant to Artists for Peace and Justice. According to Stephanie Sandler, the school in Port-au-Prince–the Academy for Peace and Justice–“treats students holistically.” In addition to educating young people, the school clothes them, feeds them and deals with their health needs. Like New Orleans after Katrina, Haiti-related needs remain pressing a year later, even though the news cycle’s attention has moved on.


Sandler is the Senior Vice-President of Programming and Donor Relations for the Giving Back Fund, an organization that provides management and consultation for more than 75 athlete-oriented foundations including former Saint Darren Sharper’s foundation. Will Smith has his own foundation, though he spoke of it reluctantly, not wanting to steal the spotlight. “My foundation focuses on youth athletes,” he said. “We try to do as much as we can to empower young kids and teach them my knowledge.”

Quick Saints observations:
– Punter Thomas Morstead’s defensive end tall, and could easily stand shoulder to shoulder with Smith and Jeff Charleston. With long hair and a full beard and mustache, he’s got a well-groomed woodsman look going on.

– Malcolm Jenkins would do Raphael Saadiq proud with retro frames on his glasses and his trademark bow tie.

– The ladies loved Martez Wilson.

– Painful moment: When offensive lineman Matt Tennant had to explain to a woman who he was as she handed him a football to autograph. To help avoid moments such as that, the players had autographed their Morton’s aprons complete with their number. In this case, that wasn’t enough.

– Drew Brees made an appearance after his own function earlier in the day. He didn’t need an apron.