Holiday Smiles at Thunder Shopping Spree
On one side of a massive blue curtain inside an Oklahoma City Target store was the entire Thunder roster. On the other was an eager group of children and their grandparents who were about to receive a special holiday treat.
Thunder players were just as excited as their counterparts, as Eric Maynor’s head flashed into view on multiple occasions so he could get a glimpse of the families, staff, Thunder Girls and, of course, Rumble, who were all ready for the team’s grand entrance. Each player flung open the curtains, from Nick Collison to Russell Westbrook and joined the families with great enthusiasm. For as much as Oklahoma residents love and respect the Thunder, it is community events like the one on Monday that prove the players and Thunder organization are even more inspired by the Oklahoma City community.
“I think the city has had an impact on us more than anything,” Westbrook said. “I think the fans and the kids, the families have done a tremendous job of welcoming us with open arms and it’s just a great feeling for all of us.”
Monday’s Thunder Shopping Spree allowed children who are a part of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program to have a $500 Target holiday shopping trip. In addition, the children’s grandparents were awarded an extra $500 to spend on essentials and holiday gifts.
The event, which has been a tradition all five seasons the team has been in Oklahoma City, is part of the Thunder’s Holiday Assist program, presented by COX Communications. Thunder players have made more than 1,000 community events over the past four years, but this one remains one of the most extraordinary.
“I think this one is one of my favorites just to see how excited the kids get,” Collison said. “They get to actually pick out their stuff and they’re able to get a lot of stuff. It’s a really good event.”
The families, selected by Sunbeam Family Services, flocked to their preferred aisles as the kids had the chance to shop with Thunder players and the grandparents were joined by the Thunder Girls, Thunder staff and the Thunder Broadcasting team. A young girl named Anissa Jeffrey was paired with Thabo Sefolosha, and the duo picked up a number of presents that provided her with a holiday season she’ll never forget.
“I got an Easy Bake Oven and I got cool clothes,” Jeffrey said. “He (Thabo) was perfect. He’s my bro… This is my dream. I’ve been dreaming of this, and my dream has come true.”
While Hasheem Thabeet was helping Brice Joy pick out clothes, Kevin Durant was with his two new pals Ryan and Cadyn in the sporting goods section. It was time to check out the bicycles, and Durant helped them test drive their new wheels. For children who might normally have a difficult time around the holiday season, it was an unforgettable experience for Durant to be a part of such a significant moment in Ryan and Cadyn’s lives.
“It’s like a milestone in a kid’s life to have their first Christmas they can remember or to test out a bike,” Durant said. “It feels good to be a part of it and I’m happy I could bring a smile to their faces.”
“I guess it takes us back to being a kid,” Durant continued. “It’s a season of giving and love. Just to come out here and help out a community that supports us so much is the least we can do. It’s a blessing that we can bring some smiles to these people’s faces and have a good day.”
It was obvious the children and the players were having a great time, but the looks on the grandparents’ faces after the event were just as priceless. The responsibility of taking care of their grandchildren is one these grandparents approach every single day with love and effort, but some extra help, particularly around the holidays, can go a long way. One grandparent, Evelyn Campbell, was all smiles after she checked out at the register.
“I was blessed by the Thunder, Target and all of these wonderful people out here,” Campbell said. “I take care of my grandbabies. To me, that’s something normal to do… It means a lot that people understand what a grandparent goes through.”
Understanding the needs of the community and being as one with the people of Oklahoma City is a goal of this Thunder organization, and one that the team works towards every day. On the verge of tears, another grandparent, Pam Melton confirmed that those efforts are valued by both the Thunder and Oklahomans alike.
“It couldn’t have been any better, it made my Christmas,” Melton said. “It’s just amazing that (the Thunder) does such a good job.”