Blazers spread holiday cheer
Team’s 15th annual Harvest Dinner feeds homeless
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
PORTLAND — Bill Nuttall and his girlfriend Chrissy Crouch don’t have a residence in the Sellwood area of Portland, but they do live there.
And despite having to cover seven miles in sub-freezing temperatures, the couple thought it best to walk to the Rose Garden Tuesday afternoon.
The reason, however, was not to catch a Trail Blazers game, meet players from the team or lap up the Rose Quarter atmosphere. No, the motivation behind the homeless pair’s hike was a little more primal: They wanted to get something to eat.
Partnering with Providence Health & Services, the Blazers hosted their 15th consecutive Harvest Dinner at their home arena Tuesday, feeding more than 5,000 homeless, undernourished and critically-low income people from 2 to 7 p.m.
Former Portland coach P.J. Carlesimo dreamed up the idea in 1996, and it has since developed into the largest dinner of its kind in the city.
Serving food were players, coaches, front-office personnel, team alumni, local media and pretty much anybody else professionally associated with the Blazers.
And diners weren’t afraid to interact; reminiscing with players about their favorite memories, occasionally complaining to executives about not picking Kevin Durant three years ago, but mainly just saying thank you.
“I think reminds you how fortunate we are, and not just because we make the kind of money that we do, but just that we have jobs and are able to provide for our families,” Blazers guard Brandon Roy said. “Now we get to give back a little bit. It’s a great event.”
In addition to the Thanksgiving-style meal, which included turkey, ham, stuffing, green beans, bread, and pumpkin pie, Harvest Dinner attendees were offered flu shots via Providence Health & Services, free haircuts courtesy of Great Clips, pet care, family photography and live musical performances.
The only real disappointment came when the macaroni and cheese — easily the most requested entree — ran out around 4:30 p.m.
Small setbacks aside, Traci Rose, Blazers vice president of communications and community relations, said that past Harvest Dinner have impressed players so much that they often pitch similar events when they depart to new teams.
That said, it wasn’t the hoopsters who felt the most immediate impact Tuesday.
Tim Thomas, 53, lives in a shelter in Northwest Portland. A registered nurse, he said he used to manage apartment buildings with his then wife in Southern California before his luck began to change.
He wouldn’t disclose the details of his misfortune, just that he was exceedingly grateful for Tuesday’s serving.
“I think it’s a phenomenal thing to do something like this for those less fortunate. Anyone that helps another human is doing something great, and they’re (the Blazers) doing it on a macro level,” Thomas said with a plateful of food in front of him. “I’ve had it all and then was reduced to the street level. My eyes have been opened to the human condition. And to do something on a scale like this is wonderful.”
Not everyone eating at the Rose Garden shared Thomas’ plight. The crowd was about as varied as the food selection itself.
Ratheasha Gaither lives in a North Portland apartment with her 5-year-old son, Irella, who spent most of the afternoon playing in the children’s area.
Eric Garland, 59, lives in a downtown apartment complex, has been attending the harvest dinner for years, and said one of his fondest memories occurred when he interacted with former Blazer center Kevin Duckworth, who asked “How are you doing?”
Jason, who didn’t want to reveal his last name, is a 35-year-old carpenter who brings his mother, Evelyn, to the Rose Garden each year for the food and haircuts. Evelyn said she has been on and off the street since 1989.
And then, of course, there are Nuttall and Crouch, the seven-mile trekkers from Sellwood.
Nuttall was asked if all this makes him root for the Blazers any harder.
“Actually, I’m a Lakers fan,” the 58-year-old said. “Let’s keep that a secret.”
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org