Thunder's Holiday Presence Felt in Community

THE SPIRIT OF GIVING is alive and well in Thunderland. Players and coaches donated funds and time to host a series of holiday parties, shopping sprees and other events. Rumble and the Thunder Girls visited holiday parties and took free Christmas photos with fans in Bricktown. The Thunder front office staff volunteered to help distribute Christmas meals and toys to families. And even Thunder fans made a big difference, bringing food, toys and coats as part of the Thunder’s third annual Holiday Assist, presented by COX.

At the November Food Drive for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, fans brought enough food to feed 5,000 people. The Salvation Army/KFOR Coat Drive brought 500 coats (along with 40 bought by Thabo Sefolosha!). And the dream of waking up Christmas morning to a floor full of toys was made real for hundreds of area children, thanks to the Thunder and its fans.

For the past three seasons the Thunder has hosted a toy drive before select games to benefit the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Also for the past three seasons, Thunder fans have responded in droves. This year alone, fans donated nearly 1,000 toys at the Dec. 5 game against Golden State. Hooters added an additional $10,000 to the cause. After weeks of collecting, the distribution of those toys, bikes, games and dolls took place recently in Midwest City.

On Wednesday, Dec. 16 the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command opened its annual Christmas Distribution Center, where over the next three days, more than 2,000 parents, guardians and seniors came to receive their gifts that Thunder fans and the rest of the community graciously donated.

“A lot of people, this year in particular, have come here for the first time and it’s tough; it’s really hard for a lot of folks to be in that situation,” said Major Francina Proctor of the Salvation Army. “So we want to make it as comfortable for them as possible and I think they have been very grateful to have an outlet and a solution for a lot of their frustration. They have jobs, but they just can’t make ends meet.”

It’s not just Thunder fans who are asked to participate in the initiative. Thunder front office staff donated their time and resources to get a first-hand look at how the toys are distributed and see the smiles on the faces of parents who receive them, to give to the kids. Thunder vice presidents spent one Wednesday morning at the old WalMart Building assisting more 200 seniors with gifts and food boxes, and preparing toy boxes for children.

“Yesterday we had a senior pick-up and it was a delight, because some of the little things we don’t think of, like an ironing board, just mean the world to them,” said Major Proctor. “They were so excited, saying things such as, ‘Look! They’re putting an ironing board in my car!’ They couldn’t believe it.”

This year the Salvation Army and its partners surprised its recipients with a gift of a turkey, extra food and toiletries. One of the recipients, Ester Garcia, 56, was picking up toys and bikes for her two children. “I can’t believe we’re getting a turkey for Christmas and that my babies both got their bikes. I was so worried about making it a special day for them and it will be one they will never forget. Now they can remember this Christmas as the one where they got their first bike,” said Garcia.

More than 4,800 children were signed up for this year’s Angel Tree Program. The selection process for the Angel Tree Program begins in October when families have the opportunity to register with the Salvation Army. Qualified applicants are then submitted for placement on the tree.

The team’s participation in the Angel Tree Program is part of the Thunder’s Holiday Assist. Each year, the team and its fans are involved from beginning to end.

On Nov. 18, Rumble and the Thunder Girls were on hand to help launch the Angel Tree initiative and cut the ribbon with members of the Salvation Army and NewsChannel 4's Kevin Ogle at Penn Square Mall. Thunder fans have brought at least 1,000 toys to the Arena for the Angel Tree each year and the Thunder is one of many organizations donating staff and time during the three-day distribution.

“We (Thunder) do this every year,” said Jane Stanford, Thunder Guest Relations Project Coordinator. “Just to see the smiles on these people’s faces to know that their children are going to have a good Christmas and that our fans were a part of that, every year I’m here, it makes me cry.”

Vicki Guerra is the Corporate Communications Manager for the Thunder.