For one homeless family, a reason for Thanksgiving arrives early

Published on: Miami Herald
By Elizabeth Koh
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Anthony Lopez has been to only one Miami Heat game, before he was old enough to remember it. But since then, he has been a devoted and enduring fan. When he and his family moved to the Chapman Partnership, a Miami homeless shelter, after their home in Tampa was robbed, it seemed like a setback for the family’s holiday cheer.

But the chubby-cheeked 8-year-old got an early holiday wish granted Wednesday night: Chris Bosh was going to serve him dinner.

“I can’t wait to see my favorite basketball player. The Heat’s my favorite team,” he said breathlessly.

The Wednesday night dinner marked the fourth time that Bosh and his wife, Adrienne, have volunteered to serve food for the Thanksgiving holiday at the Miami shelter, which serves 800,000 meals a year. The organization, which also runs a shelter in Homestead, regularly invites community organizations to help those in need, said marketing manager Alec Rosen.

But the Boshes’ visit, he said, was something special.

“They’re very good people,” Rosen said.

The cafeteria where Anthony and his family usually eat was festooned with orange, yellow and brown balloons on Wednesday; the plastic tables covered in festive leaf-printed tablecloths. Anthony, marching in on his red sneakers, marveled at the decorations, poking at one turkey-shaped balloon above his head.

“I wish LeBron James were here, too,” he said. “But he doesn’t play in Miami anymore.”

Anthony settled into a seat at the far corner table, fidgeting. Members of Team Tomorrow Inc., a charity founded by Chris Bosh, and the girls’ basketball team from Miramar High School began handing out dinners on trays, piled high with BBQ chicken, cornbread, baked beans and salad.

When their food arrived, his sister Alysa, 9, stole his fork, and so Anthony began devouring his piece of chicken by stabbing it with his plastic knife instead.

Then a tall head ducked in under the threshold.

Before Bosh had taken 10 steps into the room, Anthony leaped from his seat and ran up to the 6’11” basketball star, who was carrying a tray of cupcakes. Even on tiptoes, he barely reached Bosh’s waist.

“Can I have one?” he asked.

Bosh carefully plucked out a chocolate cupcake with white icing, then bent down to hand it to Anthony. He bit into it quickly, hovering around the athlete as he slowly made his way down the aisle. A dozen children thronged Bosh as he moved, with orbiting parents digging out their phones to snap pictures of the moment.

Anthony, after devouring his cupcake, ran back up to the Heat forward.

“Can I have another?”

“Another?” Bosh asked. Anthony nodded.

The athlete shook his head, but pulled out another cupcake and bent down. “Don’t tell anyone,” he whispered, patting Anthony on the head.

Anthony beamed.

After handing out sweets, Bosh and his wife walked back to the kitchen to don hair caps and aprons before serving food.

Bosh said he and Adrienne chose to volunteer at Chapman because of its location in inner-city Miami and the shelter’s dedication to children.

“No matter what difficult times they are going through, they have so much joy,” Adrienne Bosh said.

Chris Bosh joked that he enjoyed hearing kids’ comments about his height and questions about his teammates. “They say the darnedest things,” he said.

After the dinner, staff members gathered the children outside the center’s recreation room. Inside, the walls were plastered with action shots of Heat players on the court, the tables stacked with coloring books, and the Boshes handed out small plush toys to the children playing on the computers and Wii console.

But standing outside, Anthony was almost bashful after his brush with fame.

“I’m just really glad I got to meet him,” the child said. “Really glad.”