DALLAS – The Fonseca family didn’t even know if their car would make it to Buckner International. They had to try. Otherwise, there would be no Thanksgiving this year.
Like so many families across the region, this last year has been particularly tough on Erasmo and Evanglina Fonseca. They decided to leave early for the annual Mavs’ Turkey Giveaway on Sunday.
The event takes place each year in partnership with Kroger, the official grocery store of the Dallas Mavericks. Players, staff and volunteers help prepare full Thanksgiving meals and sides to distribute to the families served by Bucker International.
The Fonsecas sat inside their vehicle and waited over four hours.
They tell me it was worth it. After all, this was an exciting day, and something they anticipate every year. They need the food, plus Erasmo said he can’t afford games, and this is the closest he’ll ever see the players.
“We live on a fixed income,” Erasmo Fonseca said. “When the pandemic hit, times got even harder, and we had to rely on places that would give out food. What I love about this event is the food quality is outstanding. Many places will give whatever is left over, and it’s not always healthy. So we appreciate this event. Really we came extra early to see the Mavericks. My son and I really, really love the team!”
When I first talked to the couple, they were the second car in line. As the hours ticked away, about 200 more cars arrived, stretching over a mile long.
Every car represented at least one family in need.
The mood was upbeat and festive. Volunteers held signs that said, “honk if you have hope!”
“This is such an honor to get out here and serve the people,” said Dallas Mavericks veteran Tim Hardaway, Jr.
Plus, it was a beautiful, cloudless day with just a tiny breeze blowing, enough for all the guests to roll down their windows and rejoice. For so many people, these last two years have been daunting, with one challenge after another.
Now, finally, a little bit of hope and laughter was back.
“We’ve been through so many tough times,” Evangelina Fonseca said. “So we’re thankful for the food, but we’re also excited about the Mavericks! Maybe we can meet one!”
When the time came for the gates to open for families, the Fonseca couple received a little more than they expected. Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis carried out the family’s groceries and loaded up stuffing, macaroni & cheese, sweet potatoes, marshmallows, and corn. And, of course, a turkey.
Then Porzingis asked the Fonsecas if they wanted a selfie. The pair shouted and clapped as the 7-foot-3 Porzingis hung outside their car and snapped a selfie.
“He was so excited to see us,” Porzingis recalled with a giant smile. “He wanted to take a picture, and we did that. That was probably my favorite moment of the day. Other than that, it’s been pretty fast with handing out the food. We try to get through as many people as we can.”
PORZINGIS: ‘I LOVE THE EXCITEMENT’
After practice on Sunday, Hardaway, Porzingis, and fellow teammates Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell arrived at Buckner International Humanitarian Aid Center to volunteer and dish out 250 meals for food insecure families.
The event tipped off the Mavericks’ Season of Giving, and it was a fantastic way for all the players to connect with the community.
Dallas Mavericks legends of the past like Charlie Villanueva and Morlon Wiley also participated, plus ABA veteran Willie Davis. Other special guests included the ManiAACs, D-Town Crew, and mascots Champ and MavsMan. They joined a dozen volunteers to pack food items in bags that the players would load in cars.
“Everything was great, even interacting with the guys and the brotherhood,” said Villanueva, who prepared meals for families and volunteered with his wife, Lisette. It was a full-circle moment for them. The pair met when Lisette covered the Mavericks as a sports reporter and she often covered community events.
Charlie played his last season in 2016, and now the couple has a successful real estate development and investment company. The newlyweds say they are grateful to give back to the community that served as a backdrop to their love story.
“I fell in love with the city of Dallas back when I arrived here in 2014, and I made this my home,” said Villanueva, an 11-year veteran. “I love it here. Being here is amazing and giving back is important to us. The Mavericks are family.”
Porzingis admits that he’s never actually participated in a Thanksgiving meal celebration since arriving in the United States six years ago. But he likes the “vibe and the energy because it’s all about giving thanks and giving back, and that’s what we’re doing today.”
“I love the excitement,” Porzingis said. “Any chance we can get out there and give back to the community is important, and today was a lot of fun.”
Dwight Powell is a native of Canada and says Canadian Thanksgiving is similar, except for the date. Typically Canadian Thanksgiving is held the second week of October, and there are a few distinctions, but Powell joked, “don’t ask me to explain.”
“It’s a blessing for us to be able to help families,” Powell said. “It’s great to have our guys here and do this together. I think it’s just as beneficial for us to be able to see the families enjoy this moment and another opportunity for us to get closer and see how we interact in this environment.”
Hardaway was thrilled to come to serve at the Mavs Turkey Giveaway and give back to the community.
“It’s always an honor and privilege to do something like this,” Hardaway explained. “Especially in our busy schedule. So just being able to come here and give back to the community and hand out turkeys. (The fans) do so much for us to cheer us on, why not return the favor?”
Buckner International is a global faith-based ministry dedicated to transforming and restoring the lives of vulnerable kids, families, and seniors. The COVID-19 crisis, followed by a surge in grocery and food prices, has made the work at Buckner more critical than usual these past two years.
The 250 families served Sunday received a frozen turkey, green beans, whole kernel corn, mashed potatoes, mini marshmallows, stuffing, 100% pure pumpkin, jellied cranberry, yams, cake mix, frosting and reusable bags provided by Kroger.
Even with Thanksgiving 12 days away and the 70-degree weather feeling more like springtime, everyone seemed ecstatic for the upcoming holidays. Many people missed out on turkey dinners with their families last year, so hopefully, this year will start better days.
Volunteers with the Mavericks, Buckner International, and Kroger were smiling ear-to-ear Sunday afternoon, thankful to interact with the community and bring hope to food-insecure families.
“I think everybody was really excited to be back. To be back in the community, back this season,” said Hannah Sherertz, director of corporate responsibility with the Mavericks. She explained that the Mavericks had an incredible turnout with players and legends this year, and the enthusiasm of the families uplifted everyone’s spirits.
“This season being able to get out and celebrate the holidays and serve all of these families is special,” Sherertz shared. “There was a lot of excitement and a lot of good work done.”