Super Bowl weekend has a lot of people dreamin’ big — the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams for the big win, fans for the best tailgate party ever. At kickoff it’s a fervor you can almost taste.
But beyond what the TV cameras catch for anxious viewers nationwide on game day, there’s a different “dreamin’ big” that is about kicking hunger for millions of Americans. The Taste of the NFL celebrity fundraiser held on the eve of the Super Bowl — this year in Atlanta — works toward that goal, having raised $25 million during its more than 25 years.
When Dallas chef Israel Voirin was selected to participate in this charity event three years in a row, his wife tells how she was dreamin’ big too.
“Each year I wanted to go and I never got to go and I’d say, ‘Can you put me in your suitcase?’ ” Brandy said with a smile, recalling the excitement surrounding the 2016 Super Bowl 50 event. “My husband said, ‘I’d like you to come with me this year, be by my side to support me.’ ”
It would be a very short getaway for the couple, a time for Brandy to see the annual strolling wine and food event featuring chefs from each NFL city. But shortly before purchasing her ticket to San Francisco, their plan for Brandy to come along got sacked.
“We owned our restaurant and I never thought that we weren’t going to have enough money. To me, buying the plane ticket was easy. We already had the hotel,” the 37-year-old said, reflecting on a problem they couldn’t have foreseen. “We had a client who paid us to do a huge catering event, but the bank held the check.”
Their cash flow was suddenly tight. The money was needed to purchase groceries in advance of the fundraiser for food preparation in San Francisco, plus there was the restaurant to run. To top it off, planned care for their kindergarten son, Sebastian, fell through too.
An airplane ticket for Brandy was off the table, but she still searched for bargain flights. The couple even offered extended restaurant hours hoping to come up with enough money for her trip.
As the Super Bowl approached, this woman of faith was on the offense, holding determinedly onto her dream and believing “it would take a miracle,” she said. And that’s when the first of two astonishing incidents happened.
First, Brandy received a telephone call from a new church acquaintance, Jeanniene Lee Maki, a lady that was aware Israel would be a chef at the Super Bowl charity event, but unaware of the latest stressful money development. Brandy had only met her casually three or four times — and wasn’t a close friend — but Jeanniene insisted she take the young mom shopping for new clothes at Jeanniene’s expense. It would include a visit to the hair salon, even though Brandy protested vehemently.
“She said, ‘God never gets his channels mixed up. If God told me to take you shopping and get your hair done then that’s what we’re going to do. I’ll pick you up in an hour,’ ” Brandy said, remembering her own uneasiness. “I said, ‘Listen, I believe in God too — and I don’t want to talk negatively — but I don’t feel comfortable about you doing this …’”
Jeanniene told her to keep on having faith and to prepare as if she were going, but Brandy’s hopes sunk to a new low as the next couple of days passed. Then, with her husband’s departure the very next morning, a thought — one she felt was from God — came strongly to mind as she angrily packed her husband’s bag late that evening. She heard clearly that she should read the biblical parable about the 10 virgins, a lesson about not being ready — and the consequences.
“And I got up and read the Bible — I didn’t even know where to find the story — and in it I read how five virgins were ready to go and five weren’t ready,” Brandy said, realizing right then that if a ‘miracle’ happened and she did get the opportunity to make the trip, she had better be ready. “It lit a fire under me, and I packed my clothes,”
And that’s when the second surprising thing happened.
“Three hours later I got a call from the same lady who bought me the clothes,” Brandy said, remembering Jeanniene’s exact words about hearing a heaven-sent directive to purchase a plane ticket. “She told me, ‘I wanted to do it before, but I don’t do it unless God tells me to do it. I’m not about to do something just to be nice.’”
With the late hour and no one to watch their son while the couple was on the trip, Jeanniene also offered to purchase a ticket for their 6-year-old. Not surprisingly, his big dreamer mom had already packed his suitcase.
“What’s so crazy is that Jeanniene bought the last two tickets on Virgin Atlantic! Like the virgins I was reading about in the Bible!” Brandy said, her voice full of excitement. “The last two tickets! And we were all on the flight together.”
Touchdown San Francisco! Dream. Big.
Lucy Luginbill is a career television producer-host and the spiritual life editor for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash. In her column, she reflects on the meaning of her name, “light bringer.”