CHARLOTTE – Last season the Panthers celebrated Thanksgiving in Dallas with a victory on Thanksgiving Day over the Dallas Cowboys. This year, they did something a bit more traditional and true to the core of the organization.
The Panthers hosted their annual Giving Thanks dinner at Bank of America stadium on Monday night.
Three hundred children and parents associated with six Charlotte area nonprofits poured into the Panthers Den for a Thanksgiving meal, served by fullback Mike Tolbert, defensive tackle Chas Alecxih and team president Danny Morrison, with help from the TopCats and Sir Purr.
Jenny and Josh Meadows head one of those ministries, The Abandon Project, in east Charlotte. They mentor children living in low-income housing who, without the Panthers, may have treated the upcoming holiday as simply a day off school.
"It gives a lot of the kids an opportunity to actually have a Thanksgiving meal with their friends," Jenny said, "because this is their community and their family and they get to share a Thanksgiving meal with them that they probably wouldn't have been able to outside of it."
To go with the meal, children had the opportunity to meet the players for a signed team photograph. The kids also provided the entertainment, playing a game of Simon Says, staging their own Mannequin Challenge and having two dance-offs, made complete with balloon hats.
"There's a lot of kids who would never even be able to go inside the stadium," Josh said, "so the fact that they get to come here and have a nice dinner with their friends, they'll never forget this experience."
Tolbert knows from experience that events like these are not done out of expectation, but result from a core value of giving back to the community prevalent throughout the makeup of the organization.
"It's extremely rare from what I hear," Tolbert said. "People that come from other places say, 'They're doing what?' This is rare. To have an organization where the owner, general manager, president and head coach believe in supporting the community as much as they support us is definitely a rare thing, but it's definitely a blessing that we're able to go out and do things like this, where we can show our face in the community without a helmet on and show people that we care as much as they care about us.
"I've been tremendously blessed to be in this place where I am today," Tolbert added. "Just being able to give my time to come out and support these kids that need so much."
View photos of the Panthers' annual Giving Thanks event at Bank of America Stadium.