Bed-Stuy got a sweet treat last weekend as Nets forward Cameron Johnson swung through for a Thanksgiving giveaway. The basketball player visited Marcy Houses, the childhood home of music producer and hip-hop legend Jay-Z, to help local nonprofit Wellfare distribute food boxes ahead of Thanksgiving, on Nov. 18.
One by one, hundreds of neighbors arrived at the Marcy House playground looking for some pantry supplies. The former Phoenix Sun turned full-time Brooklynite helped seniors grab their boxes and caused a few smiles.
With Johnson’s help, Wellfare handed out 315 boxes on Saturday, which accounted for $80,000 in donations. Attendees also had access to blood pressure screenings, nutrition education and assistance with insurance enrollment, courtesy of Hospital for Special Surgery. They also gifted yoga mats, pedometers, resistance bands and online fitness classes.
“It means a lot,” said Johnson. “I like to say it’s putting faces to the people, the stories you hear, putting faces and names to the environment that I live in, the environment that I play in.”
A heated basketball match was going down on the playground’s court surrounded by attentive children. When Johnson got there, the game stopped for players to snap some selfies with the athlete.
A calf injury forced Johnson, who signed with the Nets in February, to miss the preseason, but he was able to play in the 2023-2024 season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 25. Johnson said he is back to 100% and demonstrated it by scoring 16 points against the Miami Heat just a few days before the holiday giveaway.
So far, the Nets have won 6 games and lost 7 games. Johnson said him and the team have developed great chemistry on and off the court.
“These last couple weeks we’ve made big strides,” he said. “There’s been some moments when we showed a real connectedness and we’ve been able to pinpoint those and I think it’s something that we can expand and grow upon.”
The 27-year-old professional sportsman has gotten few chances to enjoy the borough, but he already got to experience the city’s high energy.
“These days off that we get in between games, sometimes I might take a little walk, explore, just look around,” he said. “One of the days I did that was the marathon day. I went down and watched it and it was just people all over the place, all different types of people from all different types of backgrounds.”
He has quickly grown fond of walking through Prospect Park and of New York pizza.
“I took a walk through the park, they had little organized leagues playing and playgrounds just like this,” he said looking around Marcy’s community area.”I went over and watched some of the games. Got to meet so many people from different walks of life. It kind of builds that sense of community, as opposed to how I would easily revert to just being in my house, being tucked off by myself, go to work, come home, go to work, come home. To an extent, living here kind of forces you outta that.”
Before getting back to carrying food boxes, Johnson encouraged the young people who were playing on the court.
“I was just talking to some of them, just about daily habits and what it takes to be successful in whatever they want to be successful in,” he said. “The thing that I appreciate about this job is that the kids listen. I think the very unique and beneficial advantage that I have in this job is that when I talk to them, I have their attention. So whether I give them just a minute, two minutes, of my time, I feel like I can give them a message that may help them, give them something to think about.”
Wellfare, a charity founded in New York in 2020 as a product of the Covid-19 pandemic, regularly partners with organizations like the Nets, the New York Liberty and many more brands to distribute their “Eat & Move Better” boxes in underserved communities. Each one has over $200 worth of low-sugar, low-salt and low-fat products like plant-based milk, nutrition bars, flavored seltzers and protein-packed pasta, along with flyers with nutrition tips, wellness guides and coupons.
According to Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger-relief organization, 1 in 10 New Yorkers, or 1,882,580 people, struggle with hunger and of them, 596,060 are children. Nearly 1.2 million New Yorkers were food insecure even before the COVID-19 pandemic.