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Raiders tackle hunger by dishing out Thanksgiving meals

It’s just something the Raiders’ offensive line does. They give out free Thanksgiving meals to those in need.

Or, as 6-foot-8 left tackle Brandon Parker puts it: “We’re big guys. We like to eat. So we want to make sure the community eats.”

“It’s just a tradition that started before a lot of us were part of the Raiders,” said Andre James, the team’s 25-year-old center. “We’re just keeping it alive, man, so it’s awesome.”

On Tuesday that tradition of providing Thanksgiving meals to those in need, which began in Oakland when the franchise was still based there, played out at Allegiant Stadium. A group of offensive linemen, with help from Raiders staff, alumni, Raiderettes cheerleaders and food bank workers, handed out 600 meals that include turkey, produce, fixings and grits.

“Well, first of all, I like the Raiders, I support them 100 percent,” said Terrence Hazel, 69, who drove his scooter down to the stadium from his home in the Historic Westside. “And secondly, the cost of living is so high. A free turkey meal? I wouldn’t have been able to have one otherwise.”

The players handing out meals included Thayer Munford Jr., Alex Bars, Kolton Miller, Sebastian Gutierrez, John Simpson and Brandon Parker. Alumni on hand included Rod Martin, Mike Siani, Teyo Johnson, Roy Hart and Marcel Reece, a former Raiders player who is now the organization’s senior vice president and chief of staff.

Marshawn Lynch, the retired superstar running back who played for the Raiders in 2017 and 2018, also showed up.

“This is a special time of the year obviously for the whole nation but specifically for Raider Nation and the O-line,” said Parker. “This is just something we do out of the love of our hearts, and it’s something we look forward to doing every year.”

The tradition appears to have begun in 2015, when then-left tackle Donald Penn spearheaded an effort that saw 10 offensive linemen buying Thanksgiving dinners for 250 families in the Oakland community, according to media reports from the time.

“When me and Kolton (Miller) both got there in 2018, Donald Penn kinda showed us this is what they do. It’s kind of important to us,” Parker said.

In Las Vegas, the need for food was clearly on display Tuesday night, with a huge line of cars snaking around the stadium in a scene that was reminiscent of the long lines for food during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even though hunger levels aren’t quite as bad as they were in 2020, the levels are still high, said Kate Gaines, director of development with Three Square Food Bank, which organized Tuesday’s event alongside the Raiders.

One out of seven people in southern Nevada are food insecure, which means they don’t necessarily know where their next meal will come from, she said.

“That’s enough to fill Allegiant Stadium more than five times with the number of food insecure individuals,” Gaines said.

Hazel, while putting his meal in a plastic crate tied to the back of his scooter, echoed what other recipients of the meals said: that the cost of living has gone way up, which makes it hard to buy food.

“What they’re paying is not enough to live on, with the cost of living and rent,” Hazel said.

Davon Durham, 44, waited in line for an hour and a half with his son Derrick, 19, and daughter Braelyn, 5, to get a free meal.

“I feel very appreciative because the Raiders, you know, this is my team, they’re really blessing the community with this Thanksgiving deal,” Durham said. “It means a whole lot, man, because there’s a lot of people out here that don’t have, that can’t afford.”

Durham also added: “It’s hard out here.”

Robyn Eastman, 35, and Tige Henson, 47, also got a meal that they’ll sit down and eat while watching football on Thursday. A meal that was given to them by actual football players.

Eastman and Henson were asked if it’s hard to put food on the table.

“Oh, absolutely. Yes,” Eastman said. “Jobs now are so hard to come by. They say everyone’s hiring, but they’re really not. And this helps out so much, especially with the holidays and with Christmas coming up. It helps tremendously.”

For more information about donating to Three Square Food Bank, go to the food bank’s website at threesquare.org.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com or 561-324-6421. Follow @BrettClarkson_ on Twitter.

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