A line of cars wrapped around the entire block surrounding the Market at Eastpoint in Oklahoma City. In the parking lot of the market, a sea of blue Homeland bags covered the asphalt. Each bag contained the necessary fixings for a complete Thanksgiving dinner such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and turkeys.
Each car represented a family in need.
On Saturday, the Thunder kicked off its annual Holiday Assist partnering with Homeland to give away Thanksgiving meals to 400 local families with the help of Restore OKC. As the families drove through the parking lot to the beat of Thunder Drummers, there was a chance they would be greeted by a familiar face as the entire Thunder roster also lent a hand in dishing out turkeys.
“We love to do this,” said Thunder wing Kenrich Williams. “Just give back to the city. It's a great feeling just to be able to do that with this organization.”
While Saturday’s event marked the second drive-through turkey giveaway due to the pandemic, it was the first year where the event took place at the newest grocery store in Northeast Oklahoma City. Before the Market at Eastpoint, the Northeast OKC community was considered a food desert.
“It was really important for us to be a part of the Northeast community,” said Laura Zappi, Marketing Director for Homeland. “Not only supporting the community but actually being in the community and being able to be a location for food where there wasn't food before. So it's great to be able to do both. To be able to open stores on a regular basis for the community, but also be able to do events like this with the Thunder where we can provide meals for the community.”
The event also marked the first time in nearly two years where Thunder players were able to participate in the festivities. For many of the players on the Thunder’s young roster, Saturday was their first opportunity to be out in the Oklahoma City community and lend a hand to some of the very people who cheer them on from afar.
“The Thunder organization is very community minded, very community driven in every part of the organization from the top down the bottom,” said Thunder VP of Community Engagement Christine Berney. “It's just a great opportunity for [the players] to get to know Oklahoma City, to learn about some of the need that exists here and more about what our organization is all about.”
Cars rolled through the parking lot to pick up their turkey one by one throughout the afternoon. Both families and players alike beamed with excitement upon meeting each other in person.
When Janet Amir chose to wear her Thunder t-shirt to pick up her Thanksgiving meal, she had no idea she and her two grandsons would actually get the chance to meet the players on the roster. Amir’s eldest grandson, Elijah, attends elementary school at John Rex Elementary just a few blocks down from Paycom Center and when Josh Giddey opened the back door and loaded up their car with bags full of Thanksgiving food, Elijah’s eyes lit up with excitement.
“It’s my first time being with the Thunder community and out here helping out for a special day like Thanksgiving,” said Thunder rookie Josh Giddey. “It means a lot to give back to the fans. For the support they show us, it’s good for us to be able to give back to them.”
“It means a lot. Just because in the past I've been on the other side of this,” Williams said. “I've been the one going to turkey dinners and Thanksgiving dinners. I know how it feels. So to be able to do this, it means something special. It's a good feeling just knowing you’re giving back.”
For families like Janet Amir’s, the food they received from the turkey giveaway will last for Thanksgiving dinner, but the impact of their interaction with the Thunder players was permanent.
“For little boys like Elijah,” Amir explained. “I think that it gives them an opportunity to see I can be and do anything I want to be. I think that's a big deal.”