Exactly one week ago, life was vastly different at Austin Street Center, home to one of Dallas’ largest homeless shelters.

The city was in the trenches of an ice storm that threatened the lives of the most vulnerable homeless individuals in the community. ASC went into overdrive, seeking to protect as many souls as possible from the harsh climate.

Everyone hunkered down and rode out the storm together.

When the Dallas Mavs community team and Raising Cane’s staff arrived Thursday afternoon, the sunshine and smiles were back. The franchise was there to donate winter coats, new hats and other items to our neighbors for the Mavs Winter Warm-Up Drive.

Each resident had the chance to pick their own coat to give them a sense of normalcy and dignity even for just a day.

Meanwhile, Raising Cane’s provided the lunch as the “clients” — a name Austin Street calls the people they serve — enjoyed a warm meal. As they ate, a member of the Mavs ManiAACs belted out “Lean On Me” on the microphone.

Life seemed to be on the upswing. Together we really are stronger.

“Today we are so excited to have the Mavs and Raising Cane’s here for the Mavs Winter Warm-up,” said Teresa Thomas with Austin Street Center. “The Mavs were so generous to collect coats from the community and Mavs Fans For Life and bring them to the shelter today.”

The Mavs Winter Warm-Up Drive took place throughout January, and fans who donated new and gently used winter items received a free box combo from Raising Cane’s.

Collection bins were located at the American Airlines Center throughout home games in January.

Dallas Mavericks player Christian Wood served as the face of the program this season and was on hand last month when the Mavs Winter Warm-Up launched.

The winter storm forced the Mavs to reschedule, and Wood missed today because he’s on the road. Mavs community leaders said he sent his well-wishes and everyone stepped up to make the drive successful.

“We collected over 100 coats from MFFLs, so we were excited to help so many people at Austin Street Center today,” said Emily Honeycutt, Dallas Mavs manager of corporate social responsibility. “It was really helpful and impactful for the fans to bring out their gear to help the Dallas community. We provided them with some winter wear today as February is always the coldest month in Dallas.”

For 40 years, Austin Street Center has worked to end homelessness in North Texas. The Center serves two highly vulnerable populations – men over 45 and women over 18, many of whom also suffer from addiction, victimization, or the unexpected loss of resources.

Last year alone, the nonprofit served 2,050 individuals.

While some folks experiencing homelessness are eager to warm up, others are hesitant to abandon their belongings. This is why warm coats and jackets are imperative for the community’s most vulnerable people.

The extra warmth could be the difference between life and death.

Austin Street Center opened its doors at its new facility this past summer. It’s sophisticated and large, giving the clients plenty of space and a cafeteria that feels more like a hotel lobby with giant windows to bring in light.

“One of the things that we try to do here at the shelter is just love on our clients,” said Thomas. “It’s so great to have the Mavs and Raising Cane’s staff come love on our clients. It just shows them the love of Dallas and that we’re here to invest in their well-being and willing to help them get back on their feet.”

Honeycutt said working with Raising Cane’s is always an extraordinary experience for the Mavs.

“They have been a wonderful partner for us at the Mavericks,” she said. “They’re always ready to serve. They served 500 meals during the ice storm last week and another 350 today. We had Morlon Wiley come out today, which is just amazing. It’s great having those legends involved — who really are, as we say, Mavs Fans For Life. They really take it to heart and they are always ready to jump on any project we have to serve Dallas.”

Wiley said it’s always been important for him to give back to the community that supported him during his career.

Wiley was drafted in the second round by the Mavericks back in 1988, and he played one season before joining the Orlando Magic on their first expansion team roster.

He returned to the Mavs for a couple of other seasons and then was part of the Dallas Mavericks’ player development staff from 2000 to 2004. Wiley was also an assistant coach with the Magic.

“Just seeing all the people today was a highlight,” Wiley said. “I know we all go through hardships, and we go through ups and downs, and I saw the person that I met years ago that was here. It was good to see him. Today they got Raising Cane’s, and who doesn’t like Cane’s? It’s a beautiful day.”

Thomas said she was thankful that her clients had the chance to just smile and enjoy their afternoon. Something as simple as selecting a new coat can make their entire year.

“The Mavs Fans For Life are so generous to bring all the coats we have here today,” Thomas said. “I ask that everyone continue their generosity in giving to worthy causes. The other thing we need more of is compassion. Everyone has a hard day and a hard week, and some of the folks in our shelter are having the hardest month of their life and the hardest year of their life. And so we just ask for compassion for your neighbor in Dallas and then give as you can.”

To donate, volunteer or learn more about Austin Street Center, visit: https://austinstreet.org/.

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