At this time of the year, money can be very tight and many families are faced with the challenge of balancing regular expenses, as well as budgeting for the holidays to come. To help lessen the stress that may come with the uncertainty of being able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner, four Downtown businesses came together to feed 100 families in Fresno. In collaboration with the Fresno Grizzlies, the Downtown Fresno Grocery Outlet, OK Produce, and Shepherd’s Inn made it possible to host the Fresno Grizzlies Thanksgiving Supper Giveaway at Chukchansi Park the Monday before Thanksgiving Day. On the day of the event, each family was able to take away a 10 to 12-pound turkey, a five-pound bag of potatoes, three pounds of yams, a bunch of celery, a sack of onions, a box of stuffing, and a can of chicken broth, along with recipes that were provided for families to take home to use at their leisure.
The process in making this event come alive commenced in early November. When I was initially tasked with being the point of contact for this event and reaching out to local families, I didn’t realize the magnitude of how emotional and fulfilling it would be. I was able to reach out to over 100 families through contacts that were passed along from city council members, and downtown organizations such as Salvation Army, WIC, and various churches in the area. Our goal for the event was to make sure that these dinner items would be given to those who would truly benefit from them and would be able to put the meal components to good use.
As I reached out to several families I began to realize the weight that a giveaway like this carried. I got to learn the depth of what being able to have a Thanksgiving dinner at home it meant for people, who otherwise would not have been able to have it. After a few calls I noticed that some of the people I got in touch with were almost confused at the fact that they were invited to such a giveaway. I was often asked how or why they were lucky enough to receive a phone call that let them know they now had a way to put Thanksgiving dinner on their table.
At first, families seemed almost hesitant to accept the idea of an offer that they would say was “too good to be true.” Many people figured they had to give something in return, or had to enter in to some type of contest in order to be provided with a full complimentary Thanksgiving supper. As I dialed person after person, I explained that there was no catch and that this was simply something the Grizzlies collaborated with downtown businesses in order to give back to the community.
Often I was met with absolute silence, which I can only assume came from the sheer disbelief or shock at what they were hearing on the phone. I could almost feel the sense of relief and gratitude on the other end of these calls. As realization settled, the silences were then followed by endless “Thank You’s” in between the sounds of gasps as many held back from breaking down in tears.
After each day of making these phone calls my heart went out to the families I got in touch with as they shared stories about current struggles they were facing, making it a blessing to be a part of alleviating a part of their worries. For every phone call that passed I grew more and more appreciative of that fact that I am fortunate enough to spend Thanksgiving and many other holidays back home with my family.
During several different calls there were moments where I found myself choking up and trying to hold back tears. It was so gratifying to be able to let families know that Thanksgiving dinner would not be yet another worry or stress this year.
I will never forget a particular conversation I had with a woman, who was so thankful to have received a phone call that in between weeps, managed to tell me that she was in utter disbelief. She sounded defeated and had already come to terms with the thought that she probably wouldn’t be able to afford Thanksgiving dinner for her family this year. She then opened up, sharing with me that she was disabled and that her husband had suffered a heart attack earlier in the year. I still remember this woman’s full name, and probably always will. I replayed this phone conversation over and over in my head as the day of the event came closer.
When I arrived to work on the Monday of the event, I was informed that there was already a woman waiting in line two hours prior to the giveaway. When the woman told me her name, the entire phone conversation I had with her in early November came rushing back to me and I knew exactly who she was, standing there, waiting alone at 8:00 a.m. She was the disabled woman who’s conversation I had been replaying in my head over and over.
By 9:00 a.m., an hour before we began to give away the suppers, she no longer stood alone. Moms and dads with children and babies hugged the gate entrance bundled up in the chilly 47-degree weather. Families laughed and smiled as they posed for pictures with our mascot Parker T. Bear and exchanged stories while they waited patiently to get through the gates. People expressed their ample gratitude to employees and volunteers while going through the line collecting all of the vegetables, ingredients and a turkey. As people walked through the line, stories were shared about cherished moments on Thanksgiving around the dinner table with their families and how much it meant that it would be possible again.
Ultimately, we were able come together to give away 100 complimentary Thanksgiving suppers to Fresno families. I have never felt so fulfilled in a job where I have been able to give back to our community in such a significant manner. I was thankful for being able to be part of a donation that would allow families to spend Thanksgiving at home with dinner on the table. Not only were we able to provide families with a meal for Thanksgiving day, but I believe that we contributed to giving them hope and a lasting memory of what giving thanks during this time is all about. There is always something to be thankful for, whether you’re the one able to give or the one fortunate enough to receive.