David Britz had just finished his turkey dinner and was headed back to his Salvation Army small apartment when he made sure he got the attention of New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis.
“Thank you very much,” said Britz, 62. “It was great. Thanks a lot.”
Britz was the first of a stream of residents Wednesday at the Salvation Army Center of Hope to thank Davis, who sponsored the event, the first of once-a-month community activities he will have. Davis, his father, Anthony Sr., mother, Erainer, twin sister Antoinette and other relatives dished up one hundred seventy-five meals paid for by Davis.
For Davis, it put Thanksgiving in perspective in a personal way.
“It made me thankful to be here,” he said. “Thankful for who you are, thankful for a lot of things. Everybody saying 'Thank You. “We talked about basketball, football, things like that. They weren't thinking about the situation that they're in, but moreso thinking about this moment.”
The Center of Hope provides temporary housing for those in life transition. Karen Jackson, who is in her fifth year as the director of the Center's social services, said residents are brought there by hardships and lack of support. The Salvation Army also provides much-needed help.
“We have programs that will either help them get employment or other services if they have mental-health illnesses or if they have some disability,” she said. “We can help them get all of their benefits, as well as permanent housing. Also, for the families, we have programs that pay up to nine months of rent to help the families get on their feet so they can become stable.”
Shannon Taylor, 33, and her family have been at the Center of Hope since August. Her and her husband and two daughters, Amber and Jamaica, slept in the family's van and in hotel rooms when they could before getting housing at the shelter. They'll be in permanent housing at the beginning of the year, and she'll be able to go back to school, she said.
When she told her children Wednesday morning that Davis was coming, Amber, a tall 10-year-old, was very excited, she said. Amber said she watches Pelicans games with her father and is well aware who Davis is.
“That's the one with the eyebrows,” she said, referring to Davis' trademark unibrow. “I play basketball at recess all the time. I always like to see NBA basketball players.”
Davis clearly brought out the child in Charles Iglehart. When a line of children formed to receive miniature basketballs from Davis, Iglehart was right there. The two had a fairly lengthy conversation about the Pelicans, with Iglehart expressing doubt about their ability to compete in the tough Southwest Division. Davis assured him they could. The conversation then turned to the Saints, with Iglehart shaking his head.
When Davis autographed a basketball for a 4-year-old boy he asked how to spell his name. The information from the youth was incorrect. Davis asked what to do. “I don't want to draw a line through it,” he said.
Davis got the correct spelling from the boy's mother, then told him the incorrect one was his nickname. That drew laughter from those around.
That also brought a return from Iglehart, who wanted an autograph on his ball, of course, like the youngsters.
“These are bragging rights,” he said.
Davis: “You've got to protect it.”
Iglehart: “I'm changing the locks on the door.”
Britz, who is from near Orlando, Fla., has been living in New Orleans for seven months. He said he is receiving Social Security but is awaiting housing for military veterans. Spending time with Davis meant more than the meal, he said.
“These guys don't have to do this,” he said. “It's something that's out of their heart, and it picks us up, it makes us … A lot of homeless people, they feel like they're down and out. But when you see professional athletes come here and spend their time, it's very uplifting.”
A knowledgeable fan, Britz said he “was like thrilled” when he heard Davis was coming.
“We just found out,” Britz said. “I think he's like another LeBron James, but I think he's going to be better than him. … I've seen Shaq and all them, but this guy (Davis) is something else.
“He's got big numbers, not only the points scored but the rebounds, the blocked shots. But I'm his fan. He's exciting to watch. He's bad.”