OAKLAND, Calif. – Susan Shelton had already received the bad news, and now she wanted to keep it secret. Too many of Oakland's homeless and underprivileged residents looked forward to the city's free Thanksgiving meal. Any indication the dinner might not happen this year was certain to be a disappointment to everyone involved.
That was the problem: About two months before the event's 20th anniversary, Shelton – who is Oakland's manager of community housing services – learned the city had raised barely a quarter of the $40,000 needed to put on the meal. Officials were on the brink of announcing the event would be canceled and replaced by a turkey giveaway.
As it turned out, Shelton didn't need to worry. On Tuesday, the city helped feed an estimated 2,100 people an early Thanksgiving dinner thanks to an unexpected benefactor: Golden Warriors forward Dorell Wright(notes).
After a generous donation from Wright, the event went on as planned.
“I’m grateful for Dorell,” said Shelton, who has been involved with the dinner for 12 years. “We weren’t going to do it this year. We didn’t even have the money. I don’t even know how he heard about it. And he came in and he said, ‘We are going to do this thing,’ and he did.
“He gave a great deal, and it was through Dorell’s efforts that we were able to put this on. This is an event that is in the fabric of Oakland. I don’t want to be dramatic, but for me it would have been devastating not to be able to do this for our seniors and our homeless.”
Around the end of October, Wright and his longtime girlfriend, Mia Lee, initially decided they would use his D Wright Way Foundation to donate turkeys in Oakland during Thanksgiving week with the help of a local group. After searching on the Internet, Lee found Oakland’s Hunger Program, which leads the city's annual turkey dinner. She told Wright about the funding problems, and he agreed to help. A coat drive that brought in 2,000 jackets was added to the project.
“There was no hesitation,” Wright said. “All these families have been dependant on these dinners.”
Still, Wright never imagined how much of an impact his donation would make. Two long lines of patrons waited patiently outside the Oakland Marriott City Center for their meal as others ate inside. After eating, people could choose from the donated jackets.
Joined by Lee and his mother, Stacy Wright, Wright signed autographs, took pictures and gave hugs to the people dining. He said he was touched by so many people’s stories at the event that it was hard to pick one that stood out.
“Half of these people, the last time they had a meal like this could have been weeks or months ago,” Wright said. “You never know what they’re going through. Hopefully, through the hour, two hours, however long they are here, they can just erase it all, live in the moment, enjoy this, listen to the band and get good food – get away from it and let their brain go somewhere else.
“It’s a blessing to see a smile on the people’s faces and how grateful they are and humble they are to come in here and get a meal, get a jacket and things like that. It really puts a smile on your face and really humbles you to be part of this.”
Longtime Oakland resident Barbara Sloan was among those who attended the meal.
“There are a lot of homeless in here,” said Sloan, who came from her retirement home. “I’m not homeless, fortunately. I’m just old. But it makes you feel like it's Thanksgiving and people care about you in Oakland, black, white, anybody. And he had the guts to come down here and walk amongst us. That’s really cool.
"He’s a nice young man. It’s wonderful for him to take the time to sponsor because look at all the people that didn’t. Kudos to him. And if I get a chance to get over there, I’m going to give him a big ol’ kiss on the cheek.”
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The Warriors' offices and practice facility were just four floors above the convention center hall where the meal was served. Because of the NBA's ongoing lockout, Wright and his teammates aren't allowed to enter the facility or communicate with team officials – which also meant the franchise couldn't participate in helping Wright with the event.
"With them being the bosses, the people I work for, I definitely thought it could have been much better if they could’ve been a part of this," Wright said. “But it’s part of the business and it’s something we’re going through. We have new owners so I can’t really fault them for anything. They are fresh on the scene. I’m sure [owner] Joe Lacob, [assistant general manager] Bob Myers, who used to be my agent – they would have definitely lent a hand out if they could.”
Wright’s parents have always been heavily involved in charity work in the Los Angeles community ever since he could remember. While it’s uncertain whether Wright will receive one penny of the $3.8 million he was set to make this season because of the lockout, he didn’t consider that as an excuse to not give back to the community.
“I know what it means to people,” Wright said. “It’s not just about me, my family and basketball. It’s about the people around us, the people that support us on a regular basis and the less fortunate.
“The paychecks and all that, I don’t care about that. They say when the blessings go up, they go down, too. I’m sure on the backend God will bless me with something. I’ll look back and say, ‘That’s the blessing I got for this or that.’ It’s not about the money. Money doesn’t run my world.”
Shelton admitted she's never been much of a basketball fan. But she's now a fan of Wright.
“I love him, love him," Shelton said. "My twins [boys] are 28 and are very big fans. I don’t do crowds, but I may even go do it and see him play.”
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