Pacers Host "Come To Our House" Thanksgiving Dinner
by Wheat Hotchkiss
Times have been rough recently for Anthony Jinks. But for a few hours Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a smile returned to Jinks’ face as he feasted on a turkey dinner and enjoyed the company of Pacers players, staff, and other local celebrities.
“Today started out pretty bad, but when I got here tonight everything’s turned out pretty good,” Jinks said.
“I feel really blessed that I’m able to be here tonight.”
Thursday marked the 15th annual "Come To Our House" Thanksgiving dinner presented by US Foods, a part of Pacers Cares and the tipoff to the NBA Cares Season of Giving campaign.
Pacers forward David West and his wife Lesley hosted more than 700 guests from local missions and shelters – the most in the history of the event – for a Thanksgiving dinner and other activities in the Indiana University Health Entry Pavilion of Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Wests continued a long tradition of a Pacers player sponsoring the annual event.
“My wife and I pride ourselves on being people of service,” West said. “We understand we’re very fortunate, so that obligates us to help those that are less fortunate. It’s a responsibility that we take seriously. Where there’s a need, we try to fill that need as best we can.”
“(David West) has been amazing,” said Kelli Towles, the Pacers’ Director of Community Relations who helped organize the event. “He is always coming to us wanting to be involved and give back to the community, especially to the less fortunate and disadvantaged. I think he realizes how blessed he and his family are, so he just wanted to give back.”
“He’s really become a fabric of this community, a fabric of our team, and really the heart and soul of our team,” added Pacers head coach Frank Vogel. “It’s obviously very important for him to be involved in something like this.”
A host of Pacers players, coaches, alumni, and local celebrities were in attendance to help serve food, sign autographs, and mingle with the guests.
In one serving line, Vogel filled plates with turkey while rookie forward Miles Plumlee served fruit and rookie guard Orlando Johnson took a break from dishing out assists to dish out sweet potatoes.
In another line, guard Paul George donned a chef’s hat and posed for pictures, while across the way the Wests and associate head coach Brian Shaw handed out food and signed autographs.
“It’s so special,” Plumlee said of the event. “Seeing our teammates give back to the community means a lot to me, just to be able to make people have a great day.”
“To see the smiles on these people’s faces and to give back to the community this way, it really makes the heart feel good,” added Kurt Cummings, president of US Foods, who joined George in one serving line.
Other special guests included Fever player Jeanette Pohlen, Pacers alumni Clark Kellogg and Darnell Hillman, team mascot Boomer, members of the Pacemates, and a host of local media personalities.
“When we can have this kind of support from our media and celebrities from around town to come in and be a part of it, I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Hillman said.
Even though it’s the offseason for the world champion Fever, Pohlen thought it was important for her to attend this particular event.
“There are so many people out there that are less fortunate than us,” Pohlen said. “I’m just so blessed to be able to do what I do. For the opportunity to give back a little bit, it was a great opportunity for me to come.”
In addition to the dinner, Thursday’s event featured activities like face painting and balloon animals, which were especially a hit with the young guests. Everyone in attendance also received a ticket to the Pacers’ Dec. 5 game against the Portland Trailblazers, as well as a Pacers backpack stuffed with the following: Pacers hat, Fever scarf, gloves, handwarmers, fleece blankets, thermal socks, Hardee’s coupons and a duffel bag courtesy of St.Vincent.
“The mission obviously is that we want to treat these individuals that for one reason or another are in a bad place in their life right now,” Towles said. “Treat them to a warm meal, a home-cooked meal, and also a few other activities.”
David West emphasized the importance of the focus remaining on the guests, and not on the celebrities in attendance.
“This is not an opportunity for self-service,” West said. “This is more about the people we’re impacting today, to have an opportunity to have an impact on their lives.”
Perhaps no person better illustrated that impact than bright-eyed teenager Gloria Miller. As she waited in line to get her face painted, Miller bubbled with excitement as she showed off her autograph collection to her friends.
“It’s been a lot of fun and an overall great experience,” Miller said.
“I’m thankful for a lot this year.”