By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | okcthunder.com
Competitiveness doesn’t stop at the doors of the Thunder ION. It even extends to giving back to the community.
After practice on Sunday, the Thunder organization posted up in the parking lot outside of the Homeland location on Lincoln and 36th Street in Northeast Oklahoma City to give away turkeys and Thanksgiving food to families in need. Each time a car pulled up to the drive through event, Thunder players burst into action, attempting to load up the trunks with more efficiency and precision than the group next to them.
“Anytime we can give back to the community – the great community that comes to the games, supports us and shows us love – it’s a great opportunity,” said guard Josh Giddey. “It means a lot to all the players and the organization to come back and give back.”
As a part of the Thunder’s 15th annual Holiday Assist efforts, the Thunder teamed up with the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County to Donate 400 Thanksgiving dinners to families in the Oklahoma City metro area. The entire Thunder team, including Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett, teamed up together at five different stations. Thunder Drummers, Rumble and Thunder Girls entertained while they alerted families how to navigate the drive through.
Surrounding picnic tables filled with bags, players were primed and ready to deliver to families while Thunder staff emerged from below tents to replenish the tables with the quickness of a pit crew.
“The families just always appreciate an extra helping hand, especially this year when we’ve all been dealing with inflation and the costs have gone up a lot,” said Teena Belcik, CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County. “The Thunder has been our partner since the day they got to Oklahoma City. We are so grateful for that partnership and enjoy that they do so many things, even behind the scenes that people don’t know about and don’t see, as well as things like this that more people do notice.”
“It was really wonderful being able to open this special Homeland here on the Northeast side,” said Lauren Zappi, Homeland’s Marketing Director. “We’ve been open for just a little bit over a year. So this year, it was great to be able to hand out all of these holiday meals to these families at our new store on the northeast.”
As the event began, Rookie forward Jaylin Williams took in the scene and reflected on his own journey. The 20-year-old thought back to his years growing up in Fort Smith, Ark., taking the bus from his school to his local Boys and Girls Club each afternoon. That was where his love for basketball began. At the end of his NBA career, he was able to return the blessings he had in his life.
“When I was younger, straight out of school, I would ride over to the Boys and Girls Club, stay over there until like five or six o’clock,” said Williams. “It was just an everyday thing for me. I grew up in the Boys and Girls Club playing basketball there. I played football there and all that. So just seeing this just paying off, it’s just a different view of it. It’s crazy.”
One of the cars that Williams and his teammates loaded up with food was driven by Irais Toscano, who was there with two of her children, Angel and Asa. Toscano’s two sons attend the Girls and Boys Club at Sequoyah and revere the Thunder and its players. Because of a recent car accident, the Toscano family wasn’t sure how they’d be able to afford a full Thanksgiving dinner. Sunday’s drive-through event by the Thunder and Homeland erased that worry.
“That’s a blessing. It’s very amazing for people to be generous and think of others during a festive time like this,” said Toscano. “I was telling Angel you don’t know what you could achieve, where you could be. You could be something huge later on. It starts from something little or someone being a backbone to you.”
In back seats, eyes of children grew wide as the players approached each car, and parents smiled and sighed at the sight of their trunks full and children awed. The holiday season can be a challenging time for families, so the players made sure to not only deliver the goods but to do it with enthusiasm. Each station had developed a rhythm for efficiency, and even used some tricks from practice to get the job done right.
“Team A – we’re doing great communication over there. We’re working as a team. We’re doing call outs, all of that,” quipped Williams, who is known for his Booming voice as he calls out defensive coverages on the court.
Towards the end of the afternoon, the cars started to trickle in more slowly but the players’ energy didn’t wane. Second-year guards Aaron Wiggins and Tre Mann crashed over to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort’s station to beat them to the Punch as a car arrived.
As he does on the court, Gilgeous-Alexander had a countermove. The next time the staff called out that a car was en route, Gilgeous-Alexander busted around the corner to beat his teammates to the car, yes to get the bragging rights, but more importantly to ensure food would be on a family’s table come Thursday that might not have been there otherwise.