Thunder Players Warm Hearts at Thanksgiving
Victor Jackson is a third generation member of the Fifth Street Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Madelyne Silva is a college student who grew up in the Boys & Girls Club, and on Tuesday, Thunder players made their presences felt by both people with special Thanksgiving visits to their organizations.
The Thunder is always active throughout Oklahoma, particularly in the winter with its Holiday Assist program, but two days before Thanksgiving, three Thunder players made the extra effort to give back. Although the Thunder has been in Oklahoma City just over five seasons, players, coaches and staff have developed deep, sentimental ties to organizations throughout the area, which is why Andre Roberson, Hasheem Thabeet and Russell Westbrook went the extra mile on Tuesday.
In the afternoon, Roberson and Thabeet dropped by the Fifth Street Baptist Church to hand out turkeys and traditional Thanksgiving dishes to 150 local residents and members of the parish, including Jackson and Harriet Colbert, who was with her young son Phillip.
“This is my third year coming around here to this program, and I really appreciate it because you have some people that really need it,” Jackson explained. “It means a whole lot. I’ve noticed and appreciate the Thunder because they’ve made a difference in the community and the state. Downtown even looks better!”
“It’s really wonderful that they want to dedicate their time to help us,” Colbert said. “In Oklahoma City, it’s been a heck of a year. I just thank God and I thank the Thunder players, because we support them all the way!”
Those who received the meals were gracious, and were impressed that Roberson and Thabeet took the time out of their schedules to personally hand out meals and connect with each person who walked through the doors. The Thunder has a unique relationship with Fifth Street Baptist Church, considering Pastor Byron Coleman is the team’s chaplain. Throughout the afternoon, it became abundantly clear that the community at Fifth Street Baptist is a special one.
“We are a caring and loving place,” Pastor Coleman said. “Me being a pastor, the heart and soul of my ministry is to love and care for people and to usher people into a place so they know they’re we’ll and they’re okay.”
As members of this Oklahoma City community themselves, players like Roberson and Thabeet want to give back to as many people as they can. That effort extends throughout the year, but the chance to assist such a generous part of the community around the holidays was a perfect opportunity to make their appreciation felt.
“A lot of people don’t have the same opportunities as most of us,” Roberson said. “I came from kind of the same places as a lot of these people, and it’s always good to give back to the community so I’m doing whatever I can.”
Across town a couple of hours later, Russell Westbrook made a splash with hundreds of local youths at the Boys & Girls Club as he hosted his annual Thanksgiving dinner, which this year served over 600 plates. The Thunder point guard has always kept close ties with the Boys & Girls Club, including his donation of three college scholarships to members of the club last spring. One recipient of the scholarship, Madelyne Silva, now a pre-med major at OCCC, was on hand for Tuesday’s event and was excited to show her gratitude.
“The scholarship started me off and gave me my wings to fly,” Silva said.
Hundreds of children just like Silva were at the Boys & Girls Club facility in northwest Oklahoma City, waiting in line in anticipation to be served turkey and green beans by volunteers, along with mashed potatoes served by Westbrook himself.
From childhood until he was 17 years old, Westbrook was a member of the club in Los Angeles, gaining valuable life lessons and growing amongst his peers in a healthy and happy environment. That time as a youth gives Westbrook unique insight into the lives of kids who are a part of the club in Oklahoma City.
“You never know what they may be going through thoughout the day, so days like this are days they can be lifted up and have fun,” Westbrook. “I’ve been blessed to be in the position I’m in now, and as an NBA player, my job is to be able to give back to the community. The Boys & Girls Club is something I grew up in and I believe in.”
To this day, Westbrook supports the endeavors of the club and those who are a part of it, making sure that his Why Not? Foundation stays committed to giving back to his cherished organization as much as possible. That dedication to the Oklahoma City institution has been inspiring to all of those at the club, including another scholarship winner, OCU student Jessica Caldwell.
“When he walked in I was really excited because Russell is really down to earth,” Caldwell said. “I like how involved he is and how he’s a normal person.”
“Seeing how involved Russell is, it gives me hope for the future to see how excited he still is about the club even though he doesn’t go here anymore,” Caldwell continued. “Just how much he believes in it makes me believe in the club and want to continue the partnership that Russell has.”