“These people were with me when nobody knew who I was,” recalled Gibson of that first experience. “I sat down at different tables and talked to a lot of the people here about their experiences and the event itself. It was great. They told me a lot of things, told me not to worry about stuff. They were believing in me before I truly believed in myself.”
Chicago Bulls

Gibson, Bulls serve annual Thanksgiving meal at Pacific Garden Mission

By Adam Fluck | 11.10.14 | 4:00 p.m. CT

As a rookie in November of 2009 with only a few professional games under his belt, Taj Gibson was still getting accustomed to life as an NBA player.

Life away from home, however, was nothing new to Gibson, who grew up in Brooklyn but attended high school at Calvary Christian in San Fernando, California. Being apart from his family was tough, especially around the holidays.

So when former teammate Luol Deng asked Gibson if he’d join him as he and others from the Bulls provided and served Thanksgiving dinner to guests at Chicago’s Pacific Garden Mission, he happily accepted.

Gibson hasn’t missed the annual event since.

“These people were with me when nobody knew who I was,” recalled Gibson of that first experience. “I sat down at different tables and talked to a lot of the people here about their experiences and the event itself. It was great. They told me a lot of things, told me not to worry about stuff. They were believing in me before I truly believed in myself.”

Gibson was one of about 90 volunteers from the Bulls organization on hand at Sunday as 850 men, women and children visiting the rescue mission enjoyed an early Thanksgiving dinner. One of the team’s signature events now in its 12th year, it also symbolized the start of the Bulls Season of Giving.

“It’s great for our whole organization,” said General Manager Gar Forman. “This event is something everybody at the Bulls looks forward to every year. It’s a chance to serve our community and interact with the guests here. Different players have come over the years to enjoy it. It’s great to come out for something like this.”

Aside from Gibson and Forman, a variety of others from throughout the organization were on hand including Michael and Nancy Reinsdorf, Randy Brown, Leslie Forman, Stacey King, Bill Wennington, Chuck Swirsky, Bob Love and Sidney Green. Cameron Bairstow, E’Twaun Moore and Tony Snell rounded out the players who volunteered their time.

The large number of Bulls employees in attendance and the consistency of the team’s support speaks volumes, according to Philip Kwiatkowski, President of Pacific Garden Mission.

“The organization has been committed to us for 12 years and it’s not only the meal,” noted Kwiatkowski. “Throughout the year they make clothing donations and provide us with shoes. They’ve always been behind us and it means a lot to our residents.

“The holidays are a tough time for the homeless,” added Kwiatkowski. “We think of home and family, but the guests here are at a shelter and some are estranged from their family. So the fact that the Bulls take the time to send some of their players and everyone else from the organization means a lot to our residents. It says something about their commitment to the city of Chicago and the charitable causes they are involved in.”

As for the meal, guests enjoyed a number of traditional Thanksgiving fixtures as Forman, Reinsdorf and the players themselves helped carve the turkeys. Generous contributions and efforts from several Bulls sponsors—Highland Baking Company, Meats by Linz, Vienna Beef, Midwest Foods, Affy Tapple, Edy’s, SYSCO, Culligan, North American Paper Company, BlueCross BlueShield, Kick 10 Promotions and Levy Restaurants—helped make the afternoon a memorable one.

For Gibson, it was a short but welcome break from basketball. And though the team had come off a busy stretch, playing its fourth game in five nights the prior evening, there was never a doubt he’d be back at Pacific Garden Mission.

“It’s so important,” said Gibson. “The people here bring a smile to your face. We’ve got a long season and there are a lot of ups and downs, but to come here and be able to help and put a smile on someone else’s face is great.”

“It’s a family atmosphere every year,” added Gibson. “Everybody is real tight knit. Everyone is helping each other out and looking out for each other. It feels good. It’s the little things that count. I had to come.”

It’s that kind of mentality that really makes a difference, and it’s not lost on Kwiatkowski, known to those at the mission as Pastor Phil.

“Anybody can write a check, but coming down here and seeing the people face to face says that they care,” said Kwiatkowski. “For someone like Taj Gibson to come by and be someone who remembers our guests at Thanksgiving says everything to the people here.”

“Sometimes the days can be pretty dull for our guests,” acknowledged Kwiatkowski. “These people can be out wandering the streets, but this is exciting. For them, it’s one of the highlights. The guys have been asking me for weeks, ‘When are the Bulls coming?’ It means so much to them. It’s a highlight and it brightens up their day.”