Susan Shelton doesn’t watch basketball, not even NBA. As she waited for Dorell Wright to show up, she had to ask if he’d arrived yet because she had no idea what he looked like.
Still, she treated him like a hero.
After all, he stepped up and saved the community’s Thanksgiving Dinner she’d run for 12 years through the City of Oakland’s Hunger Program. Wright’s foundation (Dwrightwayfoundation.org) provided more than $25,000, reviving the tradition after the 20th anniversary had been canceled because of budget cuts.
By all accounts, Wright’s deeds are laudable. But, admittedly, I tend to find it hard to muster more than a golf clap when an athlete donates thousands of their millions.
Yes, I know it’s still a lot of money. Yes, I know it’s proportionately more than the average person gives from their lot.
I think an athlete donating anything is worthy of praise. But, personally, I usually stop short of affixing a halo on a multi-millionaire who chips in a few thousand dollars (later to be written off at tax time).
But today, however, I witnessed first hand how much the thought is greater than the gift. How the little blessings can go as long a way as the extravagant ones.
My wife and I volunteered this morning. We were at Station 3, so our job was to serve the special guests and then bus their table.
Before we served, we got a pep talk from Shelton. When she spoke of Dorell to the volunteers, she slathered on the praise.
As the people came in, it started making sense. Many of the people who lined up outside the Marriott for a meal don’t have families to share Thanksgiving dinner with, or they’re the family members who family doesn’t want around. There were also several families together, enjoying their best shot at Turkey Day. Lots of seniors, homeless, disabled.
These are the outcasts of society, the disenfranchised. People down on their luck and grasping for hope. Most of all, these people were hungry.
As someone who has known what it’s like to be hungry, it was easy to spot the desperation – and the ensuing appreciation. As my wife and I hustled around scurrying up extra rolls and more salad dressing, refilling punch and sneaking seconds to the hungrier guests, you could see how much they appreciated being served.
Sure, they enjoyed the food — salad, turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, a vegetable medley with a sweet potato pie dessert — but they also enjoyed the moment. How often do they ask for something and someone runs to get it? How often are they greeted warmly, smiled at and served? I got so many thank yous and smiles. Genuine gratitude.
They don’t know how much Wright put in, and didn’t care. All they know is because of someone else’s generosity, they were able to have a special day. They were treated well, fed, entertained by a live band, and given free coats. Well over 2,000 people.
And it almost didn’t happen.
That’s what Shelton knew. Not just how much Wright gave, but that without him, so many people would be deprived of this moment.
She wasn’t the only one. One of the 400 volunteers, some well-kept eager beaver with salt-and-pepper hair and a huge smile, stopped Wright and him a hug and a speech. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it was clear she was affixing a halo.