(Photo by Michael Kinney)
By Michael Kinney
One of the mainstays of the Oklahoma City Thunder community efforts over the past decade has been its annual Thunder Holiday Shopping Spree. It has been held every year since the franchise made its way to Oklahoma.
On Sunday afternoon, they made it 11 years straight when members of the team, the Thunder Girls and office staff all met at Target to take special families on a shopping Spree. The families are part of The Sunbeam Family Services Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program.
“This has become a tradition for the organization,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said. “It’s a great event. Our community relations department does a great job of putting it together. The players have always been the best versions of themselves in these environments. You watch the effect that it has on the families, the children, it’s remarkable.”
The Thunder, Target and Sunbeam Family Services came together to provide 17 families a special Christmas as a part of the Thunder’s Holiday Assist Program. The Players helped children pick out whatever gifts they wanted for Christmas, while Thunder Girls helped grandparents pick out holiday essentials.
But one of the rules is the grandparents were forced to get things for themselves, which most in their situations never have a chance to do.
“I’m so excited, my legs are just shaking from the excitement of this,” said one emotional great-grandmother, who said she had been scammed out of her money in September. “God has answered so many prayers. I am so blessed. How good this is for me and Cody (Great grandson). His Christmas would have been very slim this year. It’s more for him. I would have took all my money and spent it on him if you all would have let me.”
The families were selected from the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program, which offers resources for men and women over 55 years of age who are raising grandchildren.
According to Sunbeam Family Services, in the United States, more than a million children are being raised by grandparents without the presence of parents in the home. This can put undo strain on the those who are either on fixed incomes or, in some cases, have no money coming in at all.
The Sunbeam Family Services provided $500 for each family to spend during the shopping spree. The Thunder then match it with another $500 for each family.
Many times, the players add on to it because they want the kids to get everything they want.
The shopping spree not only benefits the children but also the grandparents who are shouldering the burden of raising the children alone.
These are issues many of the Thunder are familiar with.
“It’s tough for grandparents having to raise grandkids,” Hamidou Diallo said. “It’s just doing what’s got to be done for the kids and doing the right thing for the kids. That’s what’s most important. Just coming out here and spending time with the kids. Getting to help them pick out gifts and things like that, it’s a blessing for me.”
Many of the kids picked out clothes, bikes, basketball hoops, phones and video games. However, some even at a young age, chose to be more practical.
One little girl who was with Deonte Burton was eyeing a bike while they made their way through Target. But in the end, she chose a few items such as milk because she knew it was something her family needed.
“It’s really tough to hear because people really do go through those things,” Burton said. “It’s sad.”
But Burton made sure she did get items for herself.
“She really didn’t know what she wanted at first,” Burton said. “She was just going around, looking at things. She was very practical. She got a book bag, a tablet, a tree for her room and decorations for the tree.”
Many of the members of the Thunder understand they are not too far removed from some of the same conditions as the kids they took shopping.
“It means a lot,” Nerleans Noel said. “There are kids like these who are not as fortunate. It means a lot for us to be able to give back. I come from a certain background as well where you’re not able to get everything you want. It means that much and more to be in a position to give back and make sure these kids are at least getting some of what they want.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider