PLANO — As the critically-acclaimed band — Emerald City Band — blared out the lyrics from Bill Wither’s popular song, Lovely Day, a long line of cars snaked about three miles from the Interstate-75 access road in Plano to Minnie’s Food Pantry to have their vehicle stuffed with a turkey and all the trimmings that will help their families have a lovely Thanksgiving Day.
The band sang the lyrics to the song that said: “When the day that lies ahead of me seems impossible to face, when someone else instead of me always seems to know the way. Then I look at you and the world’s alright with me. Just one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be a lovely day.”
That, in a nutshell, is what transpired on Saturday as Minnie’s Food Pantry fed over 4,000 needy families in a joyful atmosphere adorned with love, kindness, a live band and a deejay.
“It is a festive occasion, and this is what you want, because the year has been so tough,” said Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall, who was one of the nearly 200 volunteers who helped place turkeys and boxes of food in numerous cars. “You see how people are driving up and they’re all just hopping and bopping. That’s what we want.
“Some of these people, you know they have not been smiling a lot this year. But to just take these few minutes where they can see that people love them, they can see where Minnie’s is still here for them, they can see where the Mavs are about basketball, but yes, we are about more than just basketball. We’re just trying to make people smile today. I’ve been smiling since I pulled up and heard all the music.”
Kallie Ekwueme certainly left Minnie’s Food Pantry all smiles. After sitting in line for nearly 90 minutes, she said the waiting was well worth it, and the heartfelt generosity by all those involved will help her family immensely.
“This means a lot to me,” Ekwueme said. “I’m a teacher and there’s just been a loss of finances, because my husband lost his job.
“I’m just trying to still have Thanksgiving, so this is very helpful for us. During this time lately, I’ve been to Minnie’s to get help. Just certain times when we didn’t have enough money just to go out to the end of the week.”
Cheryl Jackson, the founder of Minnie’s Food Pantry, is widely known for reaching out and serving those in the community. Her efforts have been showcased on TV shows like Good Morning America, The Food Network, The Talk and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Jackson has an affinity for helping people in need, and Saturday’s event was a perfect indication.
“People are singing and dancing, because this is what we do,” Jackson said. “I wanted them to have an experience, so that’s why I’m thankful to the Emerald City Band when they said, ‘We’ll come out and play live.’
“And you see the young people as well as the old in the cars. They’ve got their Facebook phone out. Who is in a food line and then take out their phone to go live on Facebook? You know why? Because now they feel good. At some other places they’re not going to take pictures and say, ‘Look, I’m here in a food line.’ But here we’re laughing and dancing. We’ve taken off this thing that being hungry is hungry. We’ve made them know that it’s OK not to be OK, because Covid-19 has hurt all of us.”
Laura Potter knows she’ll be OK during Thanksgiving now that he’s received a gracious helping hand from Minnie’s Food Pantry.
“This means a lot to me,” Potter said. “This will help, especially now when things are bad and you’re not working. With what I’m getting I’ll be able to feed someone else and help them too.
“I’m thanking God for it. That we have people that think of others, and not just themselves.”
Anita Hawkins has worked as a volunteer with Minnie’s Food Pantry for nearly 12 years, and has first-hand knowledge of the lives Jackson has impacted.
“Cheryl has done this for years, and you cannot tell her ‘No,’ ” Hawkins said. “And the fact that all of these people have come out to volunteer — and they’ve come out from the kindness of their heart to make sure that they can give to other people — is amazing.
“When people come out, they don’t mind coming out to serve because they know it’s for a good cause. This is amazing for the Mavericks to come out, for Emerald City to come out, the community — everybody is here!”
Each family received a turkey box, a turkey, several sides, soft drinks, a backpack and place mats. In addition to Marshall, the ManiAACs and several other Mavs’ front office employees were on hand assisting in Saturday’s food giveaway.
“This day means so much to these families because they have had a hard year,” Marshall said. “Like so many people they have struggled financially, and to know that Thanksgivings is going to be a little brighter — because Minnie’s Food Pantry has taken their game up to an all-time high and because the Mavs have stepped in with many others to help — this will help them.
“There’s so many people here who made sure that these people will at least have some kind of hope and at least have a vision that people love them, that the Lord loves them, and they can have a good Thanksgiving. They can have a turkey and they can go home and cook with the kids — if they have kids. It’s giving a little bit of that Thanksgiving and holiday spirit to people at a time when they really, really need it.”
And that was the point, from Jackson’s perspective.
“Today has been an incredible day,” Jackson said. “We are serving our community. We had families sign up who said they needed a Thanksgiving meal, and we firmly believe that families deserve to be at their own homes, at their own tables, and they should be able to eat what we eat when it’s time for Thanksgiving.
“So we’re so delighted that our community has come together to say, ‘Yes, we believe what you’re saying and we want to help.’ My Dallas Mavericks are helping me feed the community. My dad and my mom, if they were here today, they would just be overwhelmed with gratitude.”
COVID-19, which has accounted for untold tragedies world-wide, has made things very challenging for places like Minnie’s Food Pantry.
“Since Covid, Minnie’s has served over four million meals and we normally do about 1.5 million meals every year,” Jackson said. “And since March to today its over four million meals.”
Jackson’s son, Robert “RJ” Jackson, said it’s been rewarding to be in a position to reach out and touch someone who needs a helping hand. Especially during the holidays.
“We’re going on our 13th year of operation and year-to-date we’ve provided over 15 million meals and counting,” RJ Jackson said. “As far as the pandemic, we went from feeding 5,000 to 10,000 families a month to roughly anywhere from 20,000-plus every single month because of all of the things that have taken place right now.
“But we couldn’t do it without the help of great partnerships like the Dallas Mavericks. It’s just hard for people to find their next meal, so we’re grateful for all the help and support that we can get.”
It’s all in a day’s work for the Mavs, who have been pouring funds and resources into the Dallas/Forth Worth communities for many, many years. Saturday was no exception.
“We’re doing what we can to give these people a safe environment and show them some love all at the same time, and then feed them,” Marshall said. “So we’re trying to feed them naturally, physically and emotionally.
“There are so many people having to just step it up even more and risk their lives to serve us. And then people who have lost their jobs, people who are trying to take care of their kids at home. There are so many people in need, and we have the resources to help them. The Bible said to whom much is given much is required, so we have an obligation to help these people who need our help right now.”
That’s why, as far as Cheryl Jackson is concerned, Saturday was indeed a lovely day.