PLANO – You know an event is big when a line of cars stretches around the block to get to it.
When that line extends around another block, back to the next highway exit, ahead to the following overpass and through every side street in the area, you realize the incredible enormity of Saturday morning’s Minnie’s Food Pantry’s annual Thanksgiving turkey dinner giveaway.
With more than 4,000 vehicles expected to pass through the two lines providing bags and boxes of holiday food, it was nothing short of a monumental – and joyful – effort by Minnie’s and the Dallas Mavericks, who have partnered with the nonprofit organization for years to co-host the event.
As a band played, the Mavericks’ ManiAACs and an army of volunteers helped dish out the goodies starting at 7:30 a.m.
The first cars got in line at 8 p.m. Friday night. With considerable assistance from Plano law enforcement and others, the food distribution came off without a hitch.
“We got here about 4 o’clock, and there was already a lot of people here before us,” said Angela Phillips of Trenton, northeast of Dallas. “I was like, this is a lot of people.”
All of whom were grateful to have the chance to receive a healthy Thanksgiving feast.
“This allows people that don’t have extra money to spend right now on groceries due to bills and being tight on money in general to actually have a decent Thanksgiving with their family – a nice memorable one, too,” Phillips said.
Dr. Cheryl Jackson, founder of Minnie’s, and Mavericks’ CEO Cynt Marshall served to provide the heart and soul of Saturday’s festivities. They danced to the band’s contemporary and throwback music. They mingled with volunteers.
And most importantly, they loaded food into vehicles as the line kept moving and happy families were greeted with a smile and “Happy Thanksgiving” wishes.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” Marshall said. “We have been given a lot. The community puts their trust in us. They help us all the time. They buy our merchandise, they show up to our games, they root for the Mavs.
“So this is just one of many things that we get to do to give back to the community to show we really care. We’re all about families, we’re about children. We’re about the community and just making sure that we are an integral part of the community. I often say that we don’t just work here. We don’t just play here. We live here, too, so it’s important to us.”
Jackson, who opened Minnie’s in 2008 and has served more than 17.5 million meals to families in need, said the Mavericks’ partnership in the Thanksgiving giveaway has made the event even more special.
“It started with two cans of corn feeding the hungry,” Jackson said. “The first year we probably did about 100, 150 cars. And today we’ll probably do 4,000 cars.
“It’s just a place of joy where people who need a meal don’t have to feel down. They’re videotaping right now that they’re at a food pantry. Who does that? They’re letting the world know that: I’m in need. And we’re letting the world know that through Minnie’s and the Mavs, if they’re in need, we’re going to take care of them with singing and dancing. I’m dancing with the Mavs’ ManiAACs. Cynt Marshall is in the line literally handing out baskets to cars. People have no idea that that woman who I think is so great (is CEO at the Mavs) and putting a basket of food in their car. That’s why I’m a Mavs fan for life.”
In addition to all the necessities for a Thanksgiving feast, the good baskets included Mavericks’ T-shirts, face masks, hand sanitizer and other swag.
While the tangible help for people is to provide food. It’s also about spreading love, Jackson said.
And it was a remarkably efficient event. Traffic flowed through the facility. And volunteers took care of whatever unforeseen problems might have cropped up.
One such volunteer was Chris Williams of Red Oak. He has a long history with Minnie’s and met Marshall when she was working with AT&T, for whom Williams still works.
“This is my fourth year,” Williams said. “I came over and volunteered and fell in love with the ladies here, from Miss Cheryl on down. They took me under their wing and they allowed me to work with them. I used to get in the truck and go get the food from the different store locations. I’ve been around since 2017. They can’t get rid of me.”
Williams said the Thanksgiving turkey giveaway and the Christmas holiday meal next month are the two busiest events that Minnie’s does.
It’s a charitable event. But it’s also a party, as Jackson said, designed to make those in need not feel like they are needy, but blessed.
“It was a great experience,” said Phillips after picking up her turkey and fixings. “The wait went by fast. The police officers were really nice and would come check on us and make sure we were all right.
“I didn’t really expect it. There’s a lot of people here. I came here last year and I feel like this year is a lot bigger.”
It was. About 1,300 more vehicles rolled through the Minnie’s parking lot than in 2020.