By Michael Kinney
Jaylin Williams remembers what it was like. Growing up, the Oklahoma City Thunder rookie experienced tough times as his dad tried to put food on their table and needed help at times.
So, when Williams was asked to take part in a grocery shopping spree with a local family in need, he was more than happy to lend a hand.
“Coming from a household to where we have food stamps and things like that, or resources to help us get food, and for me being able to do this is, it is great,” Williams said. “Just being on the other side of things now and seeing a smile on their faces and they’re smiling, putting things in the cart, the kids grabbing their candies and chips and it’s just a great feeling.”
Williams and the Thunder teamed up with Homeland to provide the first of two grocery shopping sprees. The Herrera family was given $500 to pick up whatever they wanted at an Oklahoma City Homeland store. Williams escorted them around the store and made sure the kids got the right snack options.
“It was awesome, just walking around with their family,” Williams said. “They’re a great family. The kids were just sneaking treats and snacks, chips into the basket. It was awesome to be able to do this with them.”
For the Herrera family, it meant much more.
“We started the new year with a lot of blessings,” said Jose Herrera Sr., who was joined by his wife Lu, and four kids, Jose Jr., Ramon, Jorge and Sophia.
While the Herrera parents were focused on making sure the family filled their carts with much-needed household supplies, the children got something special for themselves as well. That included Hot Cheetos, chocolate, ice cream and corndogs.
But getting to meet an NBA star seemed to be almost as exciting.
“It was Amazing,” Jose Jr. said. “I’ve never had this opportunity to do this. He’s nice. He’s taller than me. Amazing guy.”
The grocery shopping spree has become an annual event with the Thunder. A variety of different players such as Nick Collison have taken part in the event.
“We love the opportunity to work with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma who helps us determine the families that we invite to the shopping sprees,” said Thunder Director of Community Relations Erin Oldfield. “And this one was really special to bring in this family. To go up and down the aisles and buy all of the items that they need and a few extra, the healthy stuff, the fun stuff, carts full of everything they need.”
The Herrera children also made sure Williams didn’t leave empty-handed.
“I think one of the most touching moments is that the kids actually made a present for Jaylin,” Oldfield said. “They hand-painted Thunder signs and that’s definitely a first to see. They were giving back to him as well. There was a lot of love going all around.”
According to the 2020 census, Oklahoma’s poverty rate remained higher than the national average. More than one in seven Oklahomans (15.2 percent, or 583,029 people) were living below the federal poverty line, which is $26,200 for a family of four.
With the current high rate of inflation, it has only gotten worse. So even households that have parents that are working are still having a tough time being able to feed their families.
According to recent news reports, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma is getting almost 300 new individuals every month compared to previous years.
So to be able to help a family not have to endure the stress of an empty refrigerator for at least a few weeks was special to Williams.
“This is my first time doing this, but honestly, it’s great,” Williams said. “I want to do it again. It’s great sharing this opportunity with them and seeing the joy and excitement it brings them. It’s one thing that you never forget.”
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Photo: Michael Kinney
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