By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com
Watch: Kenrich Williams Fills Up Carts and Hearts
On Tuesday afternoon, 13-year-old Tristan Rainge stood behind his 8-year-old little sister Talia, crossed his arms and gently rested them on top of her head – a sign of affection that only makes sense to siblings. Gazing up at the 6-foot-7 Kenrich Williams, any bit of teenage toughness fell from Tristan’s face. He was all childhood wonder again.
The Thunder forward was addressing the Rainge family inside the Homeland location in northeast Oklahoma City, letting them know that they were about to embark on a shopping spree, free of charge to them, just in time for Thanksgiving week.
It was the first Homeland Shopping spree the Thunder had been able to host with a player since early February 26, 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on in-person opportunities for players to give back. Williams, who didn’t even join the Thunder until November of 2020, had no idea what a Homeland shopping spree was like and had never participated in a community event that was so intimate before.
“This is an amazing event. This is probably one of the most hands-on events that I’ve done since I’ve been in the league – since playing basketball, period,” said Williams. “Being able to give back this way is an amazing feeling.”
Tristan and Talia’s mother Alanna also has two other children – 6-year-old Tania and Tylain, who turned 9 on Tuesday and was nearly bursting at the seams that his birthday gift was getting to interact with a Thunder player. When Williams walked into the building, the children were all piled in and around a grocery cart, anxiously awaiting the arrival of their surprise special guest. After some introductions, they cruised up and down the aisles, picking out necessities and some treats too.
“My mind is still racing. There are no words,” Alanna said. “My birthday boy, he was extremely excited. He just found out. Everyone else knew, but he didn’t.”
The Rainge family was nominated for this special surprise by Freedom City OKC, an organization that helps children with tutoring in math and reading as well as bigger picture concerns like building a vision for their future and mental health.
The partnership between the Thunder and Homeland began back in 2008 when the team moved to Oklahoma City, and each year players and Rumble have played an integral role in surprising families in need with an extra boost with groceries around the holidays as a part of the Thunder's Holiday Assist program. At the end of the event, Williams had one more surprise up his sleeve – another gift card to Homeland for the Rainge family to use whenever they need it.
“It felt good to have a player here, to give back to the community and have a deserving family,” said Homeland’s Store Manager Shane Davis. “We’ve always been able to help under-privileged children and families throughout the last 15 years. It’s a great partnership to have.”
Williams has a well-documented love of Oklahoma City and has signed to stay with the Thunder in the long-term and was honored to be the player who helped the event return to its best form – when it has that personal touch. He remembers what it was like to be a child of a single parent, and has deep empathy for what the Rainge family was feeling on Tuesday.
“Growing up, I didn’t have a lot. I struggled as a kid. My mom, she always found a way,” said Williams. “If I had something like this it would have made it that much better. Being able to be hands on, it’s a great feeling. It’s much better than going out and scoring points.”
In a surprising twist, Alanna is originally from Waco, Tex., the same hometown as Williams. Alanna moved to Oklahoma when her mom got sick, and just like Williams has made Oklahoma City her home ever since. It also turns out that Alanna got volunteered by family to host Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, so this Thunder surprise couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We’re just going to be really grateful that there are still good people out in the world that like to help and give back to the community,” Alanna said. “It’s really nice to know that’s still here.”