DALLAS -- The Family Gateway Center is decked out for autumnal celebrations. "Fall is Here" proclaims a big banner on the wall, punctuated by drawings of orange pumpkins and children's handprints.In the dining hall, children are making artwork while volunteers are in the kitchen preparing dinner. Smells reminiscent of Thanksgiving waft through the building, mingling with the children's chatter and laughter. Large vats of lemonade and grape juice are waiting to be served. Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler, his wife Tess and their daughter Rian, who will be five in December, are among those there to help serve.
"We're trying to get my daughter involved in helping serve dinner," Kinsler said. "There are a lot of lessons to be learned and there's no time better than during the holiday season."When the Kinsler family arrives, they are greeted by Paige Chenault, who is still running around trying to get everything set up just right. The Thursday night affair is not just Thanksgiving dinner, but also a birthday party. For whom? It's not clear, but it really doesn't matter. There are 30 families and about 100 people living in the Annette G. Strauss Family Gateway Center just south of downtown Dallas. It is a homeless shelter that is filled every night. "We get calls all day every day," said Breanna Bouchard, Associate Development Director. "If we can't accommodate them, we try to find them another facility." The rooms resemble a college dormitory, but without the textbooks, computers or video games. Instead there are the basic necessities. Families can live there for 10 weeks as they transition into a new life. Adult training and counseling are also provided among the many services. A sign posted on the wall announces that a knitting class will be held. "Most of our charity drives are to provide toiletries like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, shampoo ..." Bouchard said. "Every family that moves in here gets new bedding, pillows, sheets, towels." Kinsler's family is there to provide Thanksgiving dinner. This is his first time at the shelter, but Kinsler has always been active in the Rangers' charity initiatives during the holiday season, whether it's by providing food for the homeless or leading the annual Toys for Tots Drive. "It's extremely important," Kinsler said. "It doesn't matter how much you make, where you live or what kind of car you drive. It's all about providing for people who can't provide for themselves. There are a lot of laughs and fun. It's what it's all about in regards to humanity." Kinsler is also a big supporter of the Birthday Party Project. That's why Chenault and her friends are at the Family Gateway Center. Their mission is to "bring joy to homeless children through the magic of birthdays". This party is for those children who have a birthday in November. "Ian and I, we know each other because our kids go to school together," Chenault said. "We started the Birthday Project Party in January and they are big supporters. Anybody can help. We can use birthday gifts for ages one through 18, birthday party supplies and we can always take donations." "I got hooked up in the Birthday Party Project and they are really cool," Kinsler said. "They do a great job of providing birthday parties for kids. It should be a lot of fun." Kinsler has his own fond childhood memories of Thanksgiving. He grew up in Tucson, but his mom was from Phoenix, a 2 1/2 hour drive to the north. "My mom had 11 brothers and sisters," Kinsler said. "Every Thanksgiving we would drive to Phoenix to spend it with them. I had about 40 cousins there. That's my best memory of Thanksgiving." Plus the ostrich ranch. The highway from Tucson to Phoenix through the Sonora Desert goes past the Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch in the shadow of Picacho Peak, where the last battle of the Civil War was fought. "Oh yeah, I remember the ostrich ranch," Kinsler said. "I always wanted to stop at the ostrich ranch. I would stare at it and dream about it, but we never stopped there." Not all dreams come true. Some do through the efforts of others, like the Kinsler family, the Birthday Party Project and the Family Gateway Center. That's what happened on a cold autumn night last Thursday in downtown Dallas. "When it comes to the holiday season, there's nothing better than this," Kinsler said. "It's an opportunity to give back to the community and help people out."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.