As the clock approached 8 a.m. Monday, Elif Crawford glanced outside to the sidewalk of Dyess Park.
“Look at all those people,” said Crawford, who was personal assistant to James Brown. “I know he’s looking down and smiling today. This event was very close to his heart.”
Monday marked the annual James Brown Turkey Giveaway, a tradition the entertainer started to assist local families before Thanksgiving.
During the 24 years of turkey giveaways, the event has grown in popularity and now helps feed about 500 families, said Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown Thomas.
“Dad never forgot where he came from,” Thomas said. “He grew up very poor on these same streets and never once forgot about the people who still remain.”
This year, hundreds of local residents took home frozen turkeys, which were provided by Wal-Mart, Comcast and James Brown Arena, in addition to small businesses and individuals.
“One of the first questions I got after my dad passed away was if the turkey giveaway would continue,” Thomas said. “So it’s clear what this day means to everyone. There’s no question it touches the lives of a lot of families.”
Since Brown’s death on Christmas Day 2006, Crawford said, keeping the tradition alive has become increasingly difficult.
“It’s gotten harder since he passed away,” Crawford said. “He used to just write a check and we’d go get the turkeys, but now we rely on donations and a lot of help from the community. So yeah, it’s a little harder, but we’re doing the best we can to help. He wanted every family to have a meal for Thanksgiving because he understood how it felt not to have one.”
Still, Brown’s daughter is confident the turkey-giveaway tradition is here to stay.
“This day was always very meaningful to my dad,” Thomas said. “He was so poor as a child that he had to stop school in seventh grade because of insufficient clothing. But once he left school, he became school. He became a teacher to everyone, and the turkey giveaway is a great example of this. When God blesses you with much, it’s your duty to share.”