Amid a year filled with health and economic concerns, it became increasingly important for Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen to continue his yearly tradition — helping local children enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.
But Allen had to get creative for his 2020 event.
In his three previous “Meals + Math” events, Allen would gather with 25 children at a local grocery store in Brooklyn and help them with Thanksgiving shopping, giving them gift cards and budgeting tips.
So for his pre-Thanksgiving event last week, Allen hosted a Zoom call and worked with students on budgeting for their Thanksgiving shopping with their $100 gift cards to Key Food. The students were with Children of Promise, an after-school program and summer camp for children who have a parent who is incarcerated.
“It was definitely different and kind of a blow with not being able to be there with them,” Allen told USA TODAY Sports. “But we were still being able to interact with them and were able to see some old and new faces…
“We had to almost pretend we were at the store on the Zoom call,” Allen said. “The Children of Promise and the proctors over there handled it amazingly. They helped the kids every step of the way. It was almost like we were at the grocery store again.”
But not quite. In past years, Allen said students would wander the grocery store aisles with a specific task: Pick out enough items for a Thanksgiving meal that would not exceed the $100 gift card. So students consulted Allen for help or relied on calculators.
This year, Allen and City Harvest determined it would not be feasible to replicate that, even with social distancing protocols. But they never considered canceling the initiative, knowing children with incarcerated parents likely faced more hardships this year. No wonder Allen saw happy kids after the program ended, as each received a gift bag.
“I can’t imagine not being able to see one, if not both of my parents. So for me, being able to help the kids, bring smiles to their faces and bring joy to their lives, that has brought me a lot of joy,” Allen said.
“The kids are doing pretty decent. I don’t think they know all the impact of what’s been going on with the virus and the economy. So it’s still great to see that they’re enjoying life. They obviously do know that they can’t go to school, parks and restaurants and all that. But they’re moving along.”
So is Allen’s continued hope to help the community.
“It’s hard to look to the future right now. Everything’s in question,” he said. “I definitely want to do more things. Just trying to figure out how to put all the logistics together and get everything in place.”
Even if it only allows Allen to host a Zoom call.