Families lined up alongside a yard on Neighbor Lane – a short distance from where an NBA star grew up – to receive a free Thanksgiving bounty delivered with a hug and a smile from the star “with a servant’s heart.”
The Game On Foundation, founded by Washington Wizards point guard and Myrtle Beach native Ramon Sessions, has offered Thanksgiving turkeys each of the last five years to the Racepath community where Sessions grew up.
Last year, his Game On Annual Turkey Feast gave 250 turkeys away. On Sunday, the event was poised to give away more than 300 with tables of Thanksgiving sides to go with it.
Cans of vegetables, boxed mixes for scalloped potatoes, two-liters of soft drinks, and pies lined four tables under a tent feet from another tent-covered table loaded with frozen turkeys.
Myrtle Beach High School basketball coach Craig Martin said he and his Seahawks team come each year to assist the alumnus who has done so much for them. And each year they have watched the event grow from turkeys to a feast.
“Right now from what I see, it is the biggest it has been,” he said, adding that the event “says a lot to our kids and this community that here’s a guy who is really concerned with where he grew up, hasn’t forgotten about where he came from and the importance of giving back when you do have success. He’s been an example for our kids to give back … and be that servant leader.”
The Boys and Girls Club of the Grand Strand and several others were inspired to join the cause this year.
LongHorn Steakhouse provided loaves of bread, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes. The Myrtle Beach Pelicans held a food drive and donated canned goods to the event. And the employees of Time Warner Cable gave the pies they receive each year from their company back to Time Warner Cable to be donated to Sunday’s event.
“We’ve got over 300 turkeys over there,” said Dione Buonto, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club. The birds were purchased in part with a $1,000 grant from Sam’s Club, she said. Kingston Plantation pitched in to help with the cause and Sessions’ Game On Foundation covered the rest of the bill as dozens of volunteers stepped up to assist.
We have “all of these little pieces from the community that come together to make this happen,” said Cheryl Jepson, with the Boys and Girls Club.
The event all started with Sessions and his mother and a strong urge to give back to their home community.
It’s really important because it’s one of those things we’re giving back to the community and the community did so much for me and my career.
Ramon Sessions, Washington Wizards point guard
Sessions flew in to Myrtle Beach at 12:15 p.m. Sunday to start handing out turkeys shortly before 3. “We played in Detroit last night, flew back to D.C., got in by 1:30 a.m. and then I found out we had the day off so I booked a flight in,” Sessions said, adding that he would be flying back out in a few hours.
“It’s really important because it’s one of those things where we’re giving back to the community and the community did so much for me and my career,” said the nine-year NBA veteran. “I grew up literally right here in the next house over in my grandma’s house so for all the people I know from a little boy to now it’s definitely a big deal.”
Sessions smiled and hugged old friends and family from the neighborhood as he passed out turkeys and wished them a “Happy Thanksgiving.” The greeting was echoed back one-by-one from a cheerful crowd.
“This is good for the community because some people wouldn’t have” Thanksgiving without this, said Emily Ford, a single mother of four who left the line with a turkey and a bag of food. “With four children, it helps a lot.”
300 turkeys were given away this year
Leajah Favorite, the Boys and Girls Club’s Youth of the Year and first-time volunteer at the event, said she was proud of the man she calls “cousin.”
“He’s like a prime example that even though you’re raised in a not-so-good community that you can do big things and influence other people,” she said.
A total of 300 turkeys were given out at the event as the community members filed through. For Nikki Miller, the giveaway embodied the true spirit of Thanksgiving.
“I think this is a great event for the community. Just giving back, that’s what this season is all about,” she said, before grabbing a turkey.
Weaver: 843-444-1722; @TSNEmily