The sight was no longer surprising to Jeff Faine, and yet no less amazing than the first time he witnessed it two years ago. It let him know, once again, how many families in the Bay area are in need during the holiday season, and how far a little help could go.
The sight was a double lineup of cars, stretching from the drive in front of One Buccaneer Place, out along a parallel access road and down hundreds of yards, past an enormous parking lot and almost all the way to Raymond James Stadium. In each car was at least one family, queued up to receive some much-needed assistance just days before Thanksgiving.
Those families were lined up for "Turkey Time with the O-Line," the 2010 version, a program that was founded by Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood in 2007. Faine, a 2008 free agent signee by the Buccaneers, joined in 2008 and still remembers his first exposure to that line snaking out from team headquarters, a la the final scene in "Field of Dreams."
"The first time I ever saw it, I was shocked," he said. "The line goes almost around the whole block here. But it's awesome to see that we're able to touch that many people. I can't even imagine what it would be like. I've been fortunate growing up to have a good family situation where we're able to have good Thanksgiving dinners. For us to be able to give this to these people so they can be happy that day, that's something little that we can do."
For many Bay area families who have fallen on hard times, Turkey Time with the O-Line is in fact a big help, making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner possible. Each family that came through the line in front of One Buc Place was given a large turkey, a bag of side items and fixings and a tasty pumpkin pie. All of the food was supplied by Publix Super Markets, a Buccaneers Pewter Partner and a proud sponsor of the O-Line's program since its early days.
"This is something where we can do a little bit to make somebody's Thanksgiving holiday a good time instead of maybe a bad time," said Faine. "We think that everybody should have a good Thanksgiving meal. We partnered up with Publix to put together some prepackaged meals where they get a turkey and fixings and a pie and everything that goes along with it. It's a small piece that we're able to do and we feel fortunate to be able to do that."
Joseph and Trueblood came up with the Turkey Time program in their second year in the league – both were 2006 draft choices – and have since involved their entire position group. Faine and Donald Penn have become core contributors as well, but every member of the O-Line was on hand Tuesday to help out. From practice squad guard Brandon Carter to reserve tackle Derek Hardman, the Bucs' big men roamed the front drive at One Buc, hauling turkeys into the visitors' backseats and offering holiday good wishes.
"I think it's important for us to be part of the community," said center Jeremy Zuttah. "The staff here, everybody wants to give back whenever we can, and it's just a great privilege to be able to come out here and help people. It feels good. Every little bit you can do for some family out there, it feels good to be able to help. It just surprises you how far giving them one turkey and a pie goes. Just to see the smiles on their faces, to let them know that somebody else cares and somebody is trying to help them, it's a great feeling."
As usual, the event had a festive feel to it, even as the hundreds of families worked through the line as quickly as possible to make room for the next people in line. Pop music blared out of nearby speakers, Buccaneers Cheerleaders joined in the process and team mascot Captain Fear provided comic relief. The very first vehicle through the line, in fact, was a single man on a scooter who soon had the full attention of a group of players and cheerleaders, all trying to figure out how to fit the turkey-and-fixings bounty into his available space. Captain Fear tried to work out a trade of his sword for the visitor's scooter, to no avail.
Most of the visitors at One Buc Place on Tuesday came in cars, with some fans from service organizations mixed in. A few needy families took a bus to a nearby stop and walked through the line. All had vouchers that were distributed to local charitable organizations by the United Way. All were grateful for the timely holiday assistance.
"It's a blessing," said Tiara Simmons, whose family of six was having a difficult time following the death of her mother. "It's helping us a lot because we've been dealing with tragedy. We just lost our mom, so this is helping us get through this time. We didn't have a turkey or anything until the Bucs helped out. This is making a big difference."
Jesus Broche, a member of the National Guard who has proudly distributed water and food to people in need during crises such as the recent one in Haiti, appreciated the help and the sense of community events such as Turkey Time with the O-Line help foster. The economic downturn has put Broche, his wife and their two children into a more difficult situation than they expected, but they will definitely be enjoying a happy Thanksgiving this week.
"I think this is a great program, especially for very needy families who don't have a chance to have Thanksgiving," he said. "I think it's wonderful what they're doing out here. Having the Bucs, who people look up to, passing it out is wonderful. That's kind of what I do in my job in the National Guard, pass out water and food to those in need. I'm very grateful. I'm proud to be part of this community.
"Everything helps when you've got nothing, and a lot of these people don't."
The 2010 Turkey Time with the O-Line was the biggest yet, distributing 654 meal vouchers. Over its four years, the program has helped approximately 2,200 families in the Bay area. That line flowing out of One Buc Place just keeps growing, every year a more heartwarming sight than the last.
"We've grown it every year that we've done it," said Faine. "We keep growing each year and we keep trying to help more and more families each year, and it's something that's really gained some momentum. Davin and Trueblood did a great job of founding this program, and we're just trying to keep it going, and it's going well."
Hundreds of Bay area families would agree.