Ella B’s Generous Hands: Holiday Give Back Dinner
Not everyone can carry three oversized plates chock-full of food for a distance of about 25 feet with ease. But Arlington ISD board member Kecia Mays proved that she could last Wednesday, not dropping any chicken, mashed potatoes or dinner rolls onto the Arlington ISD Athletics Center’s gym floor.
Mays joined many other prominent local figures serving dozens of families at the second annual Ella B’s Generous Hands: Holiday Give Back Dinner.
The event offered an upscale dining experience for Arlington ISD’s Families in Transition (FIT) program, which aids students and parents who lack a regular and adequate nighttime residence. That includes families who live with others due to loss of housing or economic hardship or may live in motels, cars, abandoned buildings or emergency or transitional housing.
Mays – who once spent time as a restaurant server to pay for her high school cheerleader outfits – said participating at the event for a second time was imperative.
“I enjoy serving the children, and I enjoy serving their parents,” said Mays, who witnessed even more families struggle during her tenure as Arlington ISD’s school board president at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think it’s nice to be able to sit down and actually be served. And not just served, but served some good food.”
Nancy Martinez was grateful that Mays served dinner to her family – boyfriend Devin Graves and her three children, Isaac, Aileen and Aaliyah. The youngsters – who are in eighth, sixth and fourth grades – relished the warm moments spent over food from Ella B’s. The Arlington restaurant featuring Southern and Cajun food from a former Dallas Cowboys Chef is located near AT&T stadium.
Martinez said the food was “delicious,” and was perfect for her family. A couple months ago, they lost precious belongings and essentials when their apartment building burned down. She praised Ella B’s owners, Patricia and Patrick Whitfield, for spearheading the venture.
“I don’t hear of a lot of restaurants doing that. It’s pretty awesome,” Martinez said.
A grand affair
The night kicked off with a warm welcome to parents from Patricia and “Chef Patrick,” as well as Arlington ISD Superintendent Dr. Marcelo Cavazos and members of Arlington ISD’s student outreach services team, which organized the night.
“This was a way to show you that we love you. Parents, you get a chance to relax … This night is for you,” Cavazos told the crowd before passing out meals to families.
Other Arlington ISD leaders – like Aaron Perales, executive director of engagement, equity and access; Telisa Brown, director of the district’s guidance and counseling department; and school board trustees Sarah McMurrough and David Wilbanks – donned aprons and treated students and parents like royalty.
“(Their serving) makes me think that it doesn’t matter your status, where you are, and the environment or community that you come from … that you have a heart,” Marinez said.
A collaboration of several community partners allowed the event to be provided to families at no cost to them. Some of those organizations – including Arlington Housing Authority, Aging and Disability Resource Center, Arlington Urban Ministries and Texas Health Resources – manned tables to share crucial information about their services.
Patrick LeBlanc, executive director for Bridging the Gap Foundation – a local group that supports individuals who battle mental illness – played Santa Claus. He didn’t hand out gifts, but the youngsters still managed to convince their parents to stand in a long line so they could get a hug and take a picture with Santa.
Seventh-grader Eric Roselund was thrilled to attend the event with his mother Catrina Jones. A beautician, Jones said the two have been homeless throughout the past couple of years due to her struggles to make ends meet.
“We live in a motel room. But we’re making it as best we can,” she said.
Jones explained that after receiving the invitation, she decided to attend the dinner because she “wanted to experience something new.”
She was overwhelmed by the donated meals. “The food was really good!” Jones said.
Eric, 12, said that he especially loved the ham.
Jones then quickly interjected, “I enjoyed corn a lot. I ate my green beans and ate his!”
Regularly working 13-hour days, Jones said she mostly appreciated how the event “gave me time with my son.”
This was just before the sharp-dressed Eric chimed in, “We don’t get to go out a lot.”
Nancy Martinez echoed their sentiments, stating that the sit-down meal pulled her family “away from our daily life.”
“Being at home, everybody is doing their own thing,” Martinez said. “So, I think it is a great opportunity to spend some time with the family … to focus on us.”