Different Look, Same Beloved Tradition
By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter
A 15-foot tall white Christmas tree went up a little earlier than usual for the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County this year. With all of the unexpected and unprecedented happenings brought about this year, A. Jaye Johnson, the Club’s Vice President of Safety and Community Outreach, figured some early holiday spirit would be just what his kids needed.
“With everything that's happened this entire 2020, we needed some joy in our lives,” said Johnson. “So here at the Club, I put a Christmas tree up every year. This year I put it up early because I wanted our kids to walk in and have something happy in their lives.”
In the midst of COVID-19, the staff at the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County had to make major adjustments to their normal operations in order to fulfill their mission to help the kids who need it the most. This meant postponing many of the events they had planned for the 25th anniversary of the club, cleaning the facility hourly all while serving not just as caretakers but as teachers for virtual learning.
However, there was one club tradition that didn’t get cancelled – the Thunder’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.
Each year, nearly 700 Club members and families file into the gymnasium for the yearly Thanksgiving dinner orchestrated by the Thunder. While social distancing and safety protocols wouldn’t allow for the event to look the same as previous years, for the Thunder cancelling was never in the cards.
“It wasn't ever an option not to do it, we just had to figure out how to do it,” said Christine Berney, the Thunder’s Vice President of Community Relations.
“The Boys and Girls Club has been a longtime partner, they just do amazing work with the kids and families in this community. I know how much they're stretched, and how much they're working in even normal years. And this year has I think quadrupled that effort.”
So on Wednesday afternoon, the Thunder figured it out. Three hundred and fifty boxes full of pre-prepared Thanksgiving dinners filled a refrigerated truck ready to be distributed to families of the club as they drove through the parking lot to the beat of Thunder drummers.
Smiles and dance moves could be seen through each windshield and behind each mask. For many of the families that come through the club during the holidays, Johnson says this annual event serves as their traditional Thanksgiving dinner where they can always expect a delicious meal and a fun time.
“I personally want to thank the Thunder for helping us pull this off. The families are coming through the line. It's a big change to them, but we're having a great time,” said Johnson. “So this is just absolutely tremendous to have everyone here and show up and just get to continue this great tradition that we've had all these years.”
Carolina Morales began working with the Club back in 2006. Ever since then, her children have grown up within its walls to the point where it became a second home for them and a safe place where they could play and learn. Even though Morales has since moved on to a new job, she understood from her time at the Club just how much the tradition of Thanksgiving dinner means to those who flock to enjoy it every year.
“I'm happy that they're were still able to do this because there is a lot of families that can't afford it because either they got laid off or whatever the reason is,” said Morales. “So I'm just glad that they were still able to have this event for families to have a Thanksgiving.”
So while this year’s Thanksgiving dinner may not resemble those of the past, to the many families who rely on the Club and its resources every single day, this year’s amended festivities mean more than any other year. If only for a few moments, the uncertainty and worries brought about by the events of 2020 could be put to the side and at least one tradition could continue.
“It's Holiday Assist number 13 and it may be our most important ever,” said Berney. “I'm just so, so glad that we were able to adapt and figure out how to how to make it work for our community partners and for the families in the community.”
WATCH: A Thanksgiving Tradition Continues