As a food service employee at Wellington Landings Middle School, Denise McClinton found herself in the lunchroom a little later than usual on Thursday, Nov. 21, as she stood before the 200 frozen turkeys her son purchased.
While donating Thanksgiving Day dinners for families in need has become a norm for New York Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins, his focus was typically on his hometown of Pahokee. His mother, however, moved to Wellington in recent years, and suggested to her youngest of three that he also turn his attention toward the middle school.
“I told him, ‘OK, we’ve got Wellington Landings right down the road, so you can do it there,’” McClinton recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah ma, I’ll do it there.’’’
As a result, families who qualified gathered in the school cafeteria exactly one week prior to Thanksgiving to pick up a free turkey and sides, courtesy of the NFL star.
“Growing up in a small town, we didn’t have many opportunities,” Jenkins said. “So, I feel like it’s only right to take advantage of every opportunity that I can, whether it’s giving back or helping out kids in the community or whatever else it may be.”
Donating the means to buy the supplies was the easy step. Distributing them was another matter. Though Jenkins was in town for the Giants’ bye week a few days before, he was in New Jersey for practice during the dinner giveaway.
In turn, his mother, father, cousin and stepfather donned Giants jerseys with “Jenkins” on the back and got to work.
Starting out at 6 a.m., Jenkins’ father, complete with a U-Haul hitched to his truck, left his Port St. Lucie home to pick up more than 300 turkeys from a Lake Worth Walmart. From there, he delivered the turkeys to designated areas in Belle Glade, Pahokee, and, finally, Wellington.
“After he made the league, he wanted to give something back,” William Jenkins said of his son.
Jenkins’ mother laughingly admitted that her son probably inherited most of his generosity from his father, but she, too, expressed a belief in the importance of paying it forward.
“Any time you can help somebody, that’s a blessing,” McClinton said. “That’s a blessing with benefits.”
McClinton has seen the need not only in her personal experience, but also working nearly every day in the middle school cafeteria. While Wellington Landings might be situated in a fairly affluent area, as much as 40 percent of its students qualify for the free or reduced-price lunch program, according to Principal Blake Bennett.
“I think a lot of times people don’t realize that we do have many families that need a little extra help at the holidays,” Bennett said. “And any little bit can help.”
According to Bennett, the school has assisted its families in need in holidays past, but not to the magnitude of Jenkins’ gift.
Wellington High School freshman Javier Diaz, along with others on the varsity football team, arrived on campus to volunteer at the event. This was a particularly meaningful mission to Diaz, as he knows what it’s like to go without.
Diaz moved to the United States from Mexico five years ago and said that Thanksgiving is a time to give to others.
“I’ve been in that position,” Diaz said. “When you first get here, that’s a struggle for everybody, so helping out is good.”
While this was the first year that Jenkins donated at Wellington Landings, he and his family have been emphasizing the “giving” in Thanksgiving for five years, carrying out this tradition every November. According to Jenkins, it’s his way of giving back.
“I feel great,” he said. “You know, I get to see a lot of families happy that I helped for the holidays, and I just hope they enjoy it.”
As families left campus with full hearts and plenty of food, the Jenkins clan finished up another successful year of giving. Perhaps William Jenkins spoke for everyone when he joyfully but emphatically concluded, “I’m going to go home to get me some rest!”