Ray Winegarner can thank the 2011 party song “Sloppy” for boosting his music career. But come November, the East Cleveland rapper is more concerned with overflowing plates than popping bottles. Since 2013, the rapper known as Ray Jr., who released the rhythm-and-blues-tinged album Tunior in June, has gifted turkeys and warm clothing to thousands of East Cleveland residents during his annual Turkey Takeover. This year, he’s even partnered with Victory Center for Youth, a nonprofit founded by his mother, Natasha Winegarner Watts, that provides mentorship programs to school-age children. Ahead of the event’s fifth anniversary, held Nov. 17 at the Salvation Army in East Cleveland, we talked to the singer-songwriter about his favorite Thanksgiving memories, what it means to give back and what he’s learned from five years of philanthropy.
My best Thanksgiving memory was when my mother rented out Mitchell’s Bar and opened the doors and started feeding everybody. I was eating with people that I didn’t know. At the time, I didn’t know what my mom was doing. But she just wanted to give back.
Community means so much to me. It’s what we’re built off of, bringing everyone together and trying to do the right thing.
The only reason we do this is to make people happy.
Growing up in East Cleveland, for me, was fun. Being a kid was way different than it is now. We played outside a lot.
My biggest role model growing up was my grandfather — the only male figure I had in my life. He was a real stand-up guy.
We do so much more than just turkeys. We do hot cocoa; we do food, clothes, hats, shoes. If people knew what goes on behind the scenes ... it’s crazy.
People so selfish now that it’s hard — too many people pretenders doing it for the wrong reasons.
You can’t do this on your own. That’s the only way you’ll win.
I’m surrounded by good people that are dope, and they bring out their dopeness. When cameras come, they try to give me all the credit, but I want the cameras on them.
I have really humbled myself since we have started. I have started working more with my team and letting Turkey Takeover have its shine. If it weren’t for my team, I wouldn’t be doing this. It’s not about Ray Jr.
Some people say, “Thank you. I didn’t know how I was going to get through Thanksgiving. I needed this.”
If you’re in a position to help, you should. If it ever gets rough for me, I just hope that someone would do for me what we do for people.