From Pantry to Stadium

MIDLOTHIAN, TX —  The hot dogs and hamburgers are being munched in contentment. Cold soft drinks on a hot night in Texas hit the spot. The flags are waving, music is playing and fireworks fill the sky with all the accompanying oohs and ahs! The festivity contains all the earmarks of a celebration on the Fourth of July.

This is a celebration of Independence Day, but here in Midlothian, the merriment occurs on July 3. The change in the date does not lessen anyone’s enthusiasm for the annual homage to wish our country happy birthday. Vicki Massey, a woman of purpose and compassion, is the founder and operator of Senior Citizen’s Food Pantry in Midlothian and organizes the occasion. This is not just a celebration of the Fourth. It is an opportunity to help feed some of the senior citizens in our community.

The citywide firework event is traditionally held on July 3 and is sponsored by Citizen’s National Bank (CNB). Vicki thought it would be a great idea to have a musical before the firework show, so she spoke to the city manager who agreed to loan her the sound stage. “He said I could show a movie or have a musical or whatever,” Vicki stated. “But for that, I thought I would need Floyd Stadium. However, it would be too hot for the seniors on July 3, so I went to the school superintendent, who was J.D. Kennedy at the time, and asked to use the new football stadium, where the seniors could sit in the press boxes where it would be cool.” After receiving his approval, she asked Danny Rodgers of CNB if he would move the fireworks from the Don Floyd Stadium area, and the event was moved to the Midlothian Independent School District Multi-Purpose Stadium.

Change is always challenging, and some citizens wanted the fireworks to remain at the original location. However, the change turned out to be a good one. “The fire department was thrilled with the move, because it gave them more room to work with, plus some of the fireworks were coming down on people’s homes,” Vicki said. “At the new stadium, that didn’t happen. It was just a safer, neater place, and you can still see the fireworks just as easily from any place in town. I can see them from my house, and that’s 2.7 miles out.”

Being at the Multi-Purpose Stadium offers more room for more entertainment. There are two concession stands and an area off the side of the field designated for children’s activities. “The children’s activities are located in the concave areas. Nothing can be on the field but the stage, because that grass is so expensive,” Vicki explained. “Every year, we progress a little bit more. For children’s activities, I went to the Ministerial Alliance and asked if each church would participate, and it worked really well. This year, we’ll have face painting and one or two jumping booths.” Unfortunately, Sonny Murray, “the barbecue man” passed away since the last event. “So this year, we will probably just have hamburgers and hot dogs. But, we should still have plenty of food for everybody. I always make it reasonable. You can have a sandwich, two cookies, a bag of chips and a drink for $5. I figured that price wouldn’t hurt your pocketbook with a family.”

To supply the concessions area, Vicki asks for donations. Two main contributors have been Renee McIlheney and Dennis Smart, owner of Smart Stops. “From Dennis’ vendors, I got 800 hot dogs, 200 to 300 drinks and two of his vendors sent money. I drove to Waco to get a whole carload of water from another one of his vendors.”

Some Midlothians come to put up tents and picnic in the area around the stadium. Others take their place in line between the rows of cars in the parking lot, while many more take advantage of the music from local talent inside the stadium. And all of them are waiting for the highlight of the evening — the  spectacular fireworks display. In order to make everyone more comfortable, Vicki would like to have a trailer with a freezer that can house cold drinks to sell to those sitting in their cars. But in order to make that happen, she needs a driver. “I need someone very efficient to drive the trailer,” she stated. “It’s a wonderful time. You can come and eat and listen to the entertainment and, later, see the fireworks. We don’t charge anything to come in. The entertainment is free, and I’m very reasonable with the food. The proceeds help us for two to three months with food at the food bank.”

Those few months will provide food for not only the 385 senior citizens who now come to the food bank every Thursday and Friday but also to 1,098

people living with them. “These people are their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The reason I know this is because the North Texas Food Bank, where we get our food, requires me to keep a record for possible recall,” Vicki said. “We feed approximately 1,400 people every week. No one gets paid a salary or any kind of money. It is strictly volunteer work. The people who help me to get the food furnish their own truck, gas and tires, and everybody is just a godsend. It’s amazing who God sends and what they do.”

Combining the fundraiser with the Independence Day celebration has helped the Senior Citizens Food Pantry with its needs. Although entrance to the celebration is free, there will be donation boxes at the gates for anyone willing to give money toward the purchase of food for the pantry. “We don’t purchase food from the North Texas Food Bank, but we do share maintenance fees with them,” Vicki explained. “The maintenance fee went from 14 cents a pound to 28 cents a pound. That doesn’t sound like much, unless you’re buying for 385 families.

At that time, I was devastated. I didn’t know how I was going to come up with the money to feed them. When we came up with this idea, and I saw how much money it was raising, it is now our largest fundraiser. With the donation boxes, I guess the Lord touches hearts. We’ve done very good, considering half the people in town don’t even know we exist. When we need something, God always comes through someway somehow.”

The Midlothian Independence Day celebration is full of festivity and is a great family time with a lot of fun. You can enjoy your time there waiting for the fireworks as you get a jump on July Fourth.

Written by Betty Tryon.