LITHONIA — There were 64 donated turkeys and gift bags, a former NFL player turned highly-successful businessman and a small line of folks in need this Thanksgiving. Georgia junior All-American hopeful Andrew Thomas was there, too.
Thomas lined up in the middle of it all at Tri-Cities funeral home in Lithonia. The place of business, coming up on its 60th year of operation, had a 6-foot-5, 330-pounder handing out holiday turkeys on Sunday.
That was Thomas. He grew up two blocks from that spot.
“He didn’t even know the situation a few weeks ago where we had given out all our turkeys,” Lithonia mayor-elect Shameka S. Reynolds said. “So today ‘Drew came through and he gave back to his community and it was not expected at all.”
There was a donation event earlier this month. The demand was strong, supplies were limited and some were turned away. So this event was scheduled and Thomas wanted to be a part of it.
Reynolds might have coined a future phrase with that “Drew came through” line on Sunday.
“We have to be proud of good people like Drew,” the mayor-elect said. “He’s done well. He’s done well in school and not only that, he’s putting us out there like he’s from Lithonia. We don’t normally get people that are from here to do what he is doing. So it is a bit different. He’s a big deal here. Very big.”
It was easy to see the groundwork being laid for something more in the years to come. Thomas has a bright professional future in the game. It seems likely that it will be after this year. Or certainly the next.
Thomas placed his focus on the present, though. He helped hand out the turkeys and signed a few of the gift bags when requested.
The public autographs were a new thing for him. He’s going to have to get used to that.
“I haven’t been home in a while and I was just talking to my coach from high school (Pace Academy assistant Kevin Johnson) that it would be a great thing for me to come out here and give back to my community with this,” Thomas said. “Just to come out. I live maybe two blocks down the road. Just to come back for the holiday, give out some turkeys and just try to be a blessing to other people and give back to the folks who live around you.”
He could have been in treatment after the Texas A&M game. Or watching Georgia Tech film. Thomas chose to start doing more around his community while he is still in college.
“I enjoy community service,” Thomas said. “I like being here in my hometown. It feels nice to be here and it makes me happy to come around and bring the community together. The biggest thing for me here was just seeing the real smiles on the faces here today.”
Reynolds and her family operate the Tri-Cities funeral home. It has been in her family since 1960.
Andrew Thomas: The story within the story
Local boy makes good. The college star gives back. That is a good story in its own right. That event turned into something more than that when Thomas got the chance to meet local businessman A. Moses White.
White’s business card says he is a board member of Wayfield Foods. He’s a successful franchisee and part-owner of Wayfield Foods. They donated 52 of those turkeys. The other 12 came from Dekalb Sheriff candidate Christopher Patterson.
But then he pulled out his old business card. This one used to come in bubble gum packs.
It was a picture of his old NFL trading card. Saved to his phone.
White pulled Thomas aside and chatted with him for a minute. Then shared a word of prayer. He has a lifetime full of experiences.
The former tight end had a brief career in the NFL with three teams. His NFL time was short, but he said he was awarded more than $250,000 because of an injury that wasn’t diagnosed properly.
It ended his career. As a result, he made more money off the field than he did on the field. He wanted Thomas to be leery of those that come around him.
“Just wanted to come and give him some advice,” White said. “Football is a profession. It is a living, but as they say, the NFL stands for ‘Not for Long’ there with that.”
After his time in the NFL was up, White said he went on to manage two A-list entertainers in James Brown and Marvin Gaye. The sum of all those experiences has affected White. He wants to see more good done in this world.
White played the last of his 22 career games in 1968 and didn’t make his name in the game. But he is successful today. By anyone’s standard. Thomas is still in college, but there was a lesson to be learned in speaking with the local businessman.
“The biggest thing he talked to me about was basically managing my money well whenever I make it to the next level,” Thomas said. “A lot of times guys get there and get excited about the money they are making and don’t take care of it. The biggest thing was to take care of your money when you reach the next level.”
After speaking with Thomas, White sees a lot of potential for good.
“This right here and him being here today shows you his heart,” White said. “This shows you what he wants to do with his life. You see the team he is playing for but you already see him wanting to do something with his community here today. He’s already let you know the kind of family he came from. That will carry people far when you find out who they are, where they come from and see that they don’t forget where they come from.”
He feels Sunday’s turkey giveaway won’t be the last time Thomas does something like that for Lithonia.
“I know he will,” White said. “You can see it. This means something, with the tension we see in this country today, to see somebody young like this giving back. Wanting to give back. That’s the future right there.”