A family affair at Giving Thanks dinner

CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers family welcomed families from four Charlotte area organizations into their home for a Thanksgiving feast to remember Monday evening.

All told, 265 guests from Charlotte Family Housing, One Seven Ministries, The Abandon Project and A Child's Place took part in the "Giving Thanks" dinner at the Panthers Den inside Bank of America Stadium.

"I hope that they see that we're trying to treat them like family," linebacker A.J. Klein said. "Serving these kids and everybody that's here, I just hope that they enjoy it and have a good time and leave with a smile on their faces."

Smiles and second helpings were plentiful as Klein, five of his teammates and several other members of the Panthers organization lined up to serve traditional Thanksgiving favorites to the families in attendance.

After piling turkey with all the fixings on plates, the players made plates for themselves and joined the fun. Fullback Mike Tolbert, celebrating his 30th birthday, brought his family to the event.

"It's exciting to have everybody come out and enjoy the things that we're able to enjoy all the time," Tolbert said. "My wife and I brought our whole family for this – my mom is here, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, my kids. They're all here having a good time."

Tolbert, Klein and fellow linebacker David Mayo - along with offensive linemen Ryan Kalil, Fernando Velasco and Nate Chandler - donned Panthers aprons and went to work.

"He looks good," said Tolbert's wife, Shianette. "He needs to wear this apron all the time. I'm going to get one for when he cooks."

Near the conclusion of the meal, in addition to several raffles that included four tickets to the next home game and gifts from Bojangles', the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to Tolbert as well as one of the invited guests.

"It's great to have this opportunity to share and give back and have all these young people have a good experience," team president Danny Morrison said. "It's fun, and it's great to see our players participate.

"The players enjoy being around the kids, socializing with them even before the event even started. It's just nice to see that interaction."

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