FRISCO — When most people speak of good intentions, the road usually goes down. Not when Oprah Winfrey does it.
She raised her voice and raised the ante at the sold-out Minnie's Food Pantry 10th annual Feed Just One Gala: Power of One at the Omni in Frisco, a location kept secret except to those who attended. At the end of her keynote speech, she pledged $250,000 and challenged the crowd to match her gift.
They went above and beyond with donations ranging from the hundreds to volunteer hours to the hundreds of thousands, making the total more than $1 million. People lined up to give, with emcee Kevin Frazier (Entertainment Tonight) wrangling the queue and Winfrey and founder Cheryl Jackson dancing to the music as each donor announced what they had to give. (And what they had to take: Selfies were a must.)
Such is the power of Oprah Winfrey, "global media leader and philanthropist." Even journalists on the red carpet couldn't hide the stars in their eyes, hanging on every word as she extolled the virtues of Minnie's founder Cheryl "Action" Jackson.
After all, it was Jackson's party. And she shone bright enough that her star power rivaled that of her inspiration's.
One person after another on the red carpet talked about how when Cheryl calls, you come. They said she's a woman of action, even making it a nickname, and she makes you want to move, too. After all, she said, she "started Minnie's Food Pantry with two cans of corn and a whisper from God."
Those people included author-actress-teacher Priscilla Shirer, first down the carpet, to Joel Osteen and his wife, Victoria, the last. In between, you had boxing champion Floyd Mayweather (and his bodyguards), who briefly spoke during the event; Grammy-winning singer and pastor Donnie McClurkin, who sang; and early donors, honorees and old, close friends — "angel" Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) and Mark Burnett (Survivor), the "loudest Christians in Hollywood." Local luminaries included Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson and Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall.
They all talked about faith. As did Winfrey during her keynote speech. She also talked of struggle. She told a story about how she walked downstairs to a neighbor's apartment because she and her siblings were hungry. When her mother came home, she admonished her and gave her a "whupping." Winfrey said she learned two things: to be ashamed of her need and to keep it quiet so as not to spread family business. She lauded Jackson for doing none of those things to the pantry's clients: "She understood that nobody should be humiliated because they're hungry. You shouldn't have to feel ashamed."
She offered advice to self-deprecating donors: "Do not prophesy that which isn't. ... Only beat the drum of that which is."
"There's a Minnie's Pantry in your own life."
"When you give from the center of yourself ... what comes back to you is unimaginable."
Oprah admired: "Y'all do it big in Texas." And she marveled: "This is the most fun I had lately."
Before Jackson introduced Winfrey — with a shout of "She is here! She is here! She is here!" — she said that Winfrey and her wisdom had been there at "pivotal moments in my life." She talked about learning to make Minnie's Food Pantry work by listening to Oprah and ended up being featured on Oprah's talk show because of it.
She said Oprah, who thanked the donors for "having fun," changed her life.
It took almost 10 tries to get Winfrey to speak at the gala. She said, "I had no intention of saying yes" but Jackson "earned it" through persistence and strength. Winfrey said she came this time because "that's somebody worth lifting up."
At the end of the night, Winfrey had changed her life — and that of her nonprofit — again.