Published November 25, 2020 at 8:49pm
Interview and photos by Jan Osborn.
It all began in the 1960s. Willie Mae Butler was a precinct chair, community leader, and a go-to person in South Dallas. She realized that many senior citizens living in and surrounding neighborhoods needed food, especially around the holidays, so Mrs. Butler decided to take charge and start a Christmas food basket drive, gathering food supplies so all could enjoy a holiday meal. Mrs. Butler would go to the local churches, elected officials, and others in the communities and tell them the importance of caring for their senior citizens.
Myrtis Evans was one of the volunteers who had worked with Mrs. Butler throughout the decades, helping to distribute food, but it was in 1993 that Mrs. Butler called Myrtis and said, “I need your help.” At that time Myrtis worked for Senator Royce West, and so she asked Mrs. Butler what she needed. Mrs. Butler said, “I want you to tell Senator West that I need some turkeys and some canned goods, and I need a donation.” Senator West gave $100 towards turkeys.
When Myrtis arrived on that particular day to drop off the turkeys and canned goods, Mrs. Butler asked her, “Where are you going?” Myrtis replied, “I got the items you requested, and I am headed back to my office. I have to work.” Mrs. Butler responded, “You’re not going anywhere. You’re going to stay here and help me.” Looking back, Myrtis said that Mrs. Butler just had a beautiful spirit, always going to try to help people in South Dallas.
As Mrs. Butler got older and could no longer head up the Christmas food basket drive, Myrtis stepped up and has been instrumental in getting meals served to over 125 seniors in South Dallas for years. “We still check in with each of the seniors before we deliver their meals,” Myrtis says. “Things have changed over the years. A lot of our seniors have gotten older and more fragile. You can’t give a small lady a big turkey that weighs 15 pounds. So we check with each senior and see what their needs are. Some of the seniors have requested that the turkey be sliced since they are unable to handle a knife.” Myrtis said, “I will never forget the day we knocked on the door of a lady and handed her the food. The lady was crying, and she said, ‘I feel so special how the young people have come up to my door and treated me with such respect.’ She told me that she hadn’t felt that special in a long time.”
This year with the gracious partnership with The Mark Cuban Heroes Basketball Center (The Cuban Center), Thanksgiving food baskets were added to the drive. The Cuban Center has provided meals to more than 500 families over the Thanksgiving holidays. But they weren’t finished as Trina Terrell, Chief Executive Officer, contacted Myrtis Evans and told her that The Cuban Center would like to help. The staff from The Cuban Center helped prepare and deliver 167 Cajun-style Thanksgiving meals to senior citizens ages 70 and older. The meals were created by chef Jared Chenevert and his team at the Bearded Chef Cajun Cuisine of Cedar Hill, who spent days in the kitchen and at the grill pouring their hearts and soul into their foods. The menu includes a whole Cajun fried turkey, sweet potatoes or garlic mashed potatoes, Cajun corn and Creole green beans, along with cranberry sauce and Cajun gravy. Desserts included sweet potato pie, low-fat apple pie, and cheesecake. Interns from The Cuban Center helped with the preparations and the delivery of the meals.
Myrtis is appreciative of the support received from Senator West’s office, The Cuban Center, and all of the other families and businesses who have donated to the food drive for seniors the past fifty years. Over the years the Dallas Chapter of International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters and James Hill have donated meals and given their time. Myrtis smiled as she recalled going to Willie Mae Butler’s apartment for many years, having an assembly line to package the groceries and greet the seniors as they stopped by the apartment to pick up their Thanksgiving feast. Myrtis still believes in the saying, “We give a hand up, not a handout.”