CHARLOTTE -- On game day, Panthers fans witness Cam Newton showcasing his athletic ability. Monday brought a friendly reminder of what the quarterback and his larger-than-life presence means to so many people off the field.
For the seventh consecutive year, the Cam Newton Foundation, partnering with Harris Teeter, sought to bring the holiday spirit to those in need, and 2018 brought the most ambitious undertaking yet: feeding upwards of 1,200 underprivileged kids (and some relatives) a Thanksgiving meal and sending every guest home with a second meal.
Cam's Thanksgiving Jam was again held at TopGolf Charlotte but, in order to accommodate serving 400 more guests than 2017, the entire venue was rented out as opposed to only two floors. It was a tall order, but Newton, along with foundation president Kim Beal and their team, tackled it head-on.
"Each and every year, my challenge is always to expand and make things bigger. And she came through once again," Newton said. "We wanted to help as many people as possible."
From the signage that bore his foundation's name to the continuous highlight reel that played on nearly every TV, this was truly a production only made possible by Newton and his organization. Prior to his arrival, kids were treated to entertainment that included visits from Sir Purr and Harry the Happy Dragon, face painters, balloon artists, a DJ and live drummer, various games, arts and crafts and, of course, unlimited golf.
Once Newton hit the scene, the energy shifted and the already booming screams got louder. Flanked by his parents and 2-year-old son Chosen, Newton took the mic and greeted the thousands in attendance.
Several non-profit agencies were on hand, including the Salvation Army Dillehay Courts Boys and Girls Club. The club was one of four to have their teen centers "Boogie-Approved" after Newton partnered with Lowe's earlier this month for renovations. Ms. Nessie, a staff member at the center, glowed when talking about Newton's off-field contributions.
"He's just real down to earth, It's always a pleasure to meet him," she said. "For them to actually get to see him in person and to see their smiles and how happy they were, it made me happy to see him do a good thing for his community."
In the spirit of doing good, Newton assisted volunteers in serving meals at six stations set up throughout the venue, stopping to talk on the way. As he approached one section, one kid exclaimed, "Jesus, that’s Cam Newton, what in the world?”
Monday was a recovery day for the Panthers, but that didn't stop some kids from asking Newton something that pertained to his day job.
"'Why didn't I run?' Coming from a six-year old or even a 12- or 15-year old, it's never enough," Newton joked, referencing a not-so-great Sunday in Detroit. "My thing to them is it's all in good fun, and I wouldn't want it any other way."
Football aside, the most urgent inquiry came regarding his go-to Thanksgiving side. His reply?
"Mac and cheese," he said with ease. "That's a cheap meal for me. Me being a pescatarian, it has to be lobster mac, too. Get a little bougieness in there."
After meal time, Newton posted up to do what he does best: hold court. Leaning against a wall, he was surrounded by kids who wanted some time with QB1. Perhaps the most telling moment came when a little girl approached Newton asking for one of his trademark bracelets.
At first, he was reluctant because he didn't have enough for the group, but he said he would if the girl could spell "special." After she did, he smiled and said she was wrong only because she didn't say capital 'S'. She laughed, and he proceeded to give her the bracelet.
Making someone's day is one of Newton's main goals, and he intends to keep that going. Ever the competitor, Newton is already pushing to top this year's output by serving "hopefully 2,000" in 2019. He sees nothing wrong with the ambition, and he wants to leave his mark as someone who enjoyed making a difference.
"Just a person that gave them hope. A person that number one played with joy and gave opportunity too," Newton said of what he wants his legacy to be. "This foundation is more than just me. We give so many opportunities to so many different people.
"I feel like I’m in a position where so many people look at me and what I do and I just want to be able to kind of give back as much as possible so the next person that may be in my position will do the same."