'This is just the starter': Pacers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce hosts coat drive and has plans to do more to impact the Indy community
As Hawks head coach, Pierce found many ways to get involved in Atlanta. With this coat drive in Indy, he worked to address something that is very necessary for all.
Once practice ended on Tuesday afternoon, Pacers lead assistant coach Lloyd Pierce put on his black team-issued sweats, a gray vest and a Pacers beanie. He was going from one leadership position to another.
This time, though, it didn’t even involve a basketball.
One mile from the team’s practice facility in downtown Indianapolis, straight east on E Washington St, is the Horizon House — a center that has impacted more than 7,200 of Indianapolis’ neighbors in 2023. They provide essential items to those in the community experiencing homelessness, from winter clothes to a warm place to shower, meditate and work toward finding a positive landing spot.
Pierce is now in his third season on Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff with the Pacers. And he’s been wanting to find ways to give back to positively impact the local community, much like he did in Atlanta years earlier when he was the head coach.
While coaching the Hawks, he got involved with five different organizations. One organization helps with transition homes for the homeless, another — Hope Thru Soap — helps the homeless in a different way. They go right to them in the community and provide resources for them to shower and freshen up. Pierce visited the organization recently on a Pacers trip back to Atlanta. He also got involved with the Georgia Innocence Project, which aims to free wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
“I think you realize, as a head coach, the power of your position,” he said. “And with the power of that position, the resources are in abundance. The challenge I had now was, ok, I’m not a head coach but the organization has the resources available. I just have to have the spirit and energy to follow up with some of the opportunities that are out there.”
Pierce doesn’t know the local community well so he leaned on Corey Wilson, the vice president of community engagement at Pacers Sports & Entertainment. Wilson’s also the one Carlisle worked with to establish his Drive & Dish initiative to address food insecurity that will begin in mid-January.
First, Pierce talked things over with his wife, Melissa. Then, there was a brainstorming deal with Wilson discussing what matters to them, what can both be sustainable and provide immediate help. Pierce was provided with a list of possible organizations and he found the one.
“This is one that we, as a family, wanted to get involved with because of the type of work that they do,” Pierce said.
A few weeks earlier, he drove over to Horizon House to get a tour and meet with members of their board. He saw how they offered an inviting space — with showers, washers and dryers, plus a meditation and calming room.
“They have peer groups and every other service you could think about that they may need so I thought it was a good fit,” he explained “I thought what they’re doing is really impactful. You can see it’s not just what they do, it’s also what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to expand it so they can get more people off the street.”
So to get started, Pierce decided to host a coat drive. It’s winter and it’s cold in Indiana so everyone needs and deserves a warm coat.
“Our initial thought was how can we volunteer and help out,” Pierce is telling me between coat drop-offs. “The first thing that we came up with that was tangible was coats. This is just the starter. We plan to do more, but this is an easy starter for us to get some coats and we’re going to end up with a couple hundred coats, a very impactful thing.
“When you can put an event together and bring organizations together, everyone benefits and everything grows. It’s always been our goal to find the right organization — and for us, the right organization is a group of people that are doing something that is very necessary. Homelessness is very necessary; food security is very necessary.”
The Pacers got involved with the help of Karen Atkeson and Michael Hornback in player relations. The coat drive was pushed on the team’s social media channels. Aaron Nesmith committed to joining Pierce outside Horizon House to collect coats. And until they were out, Pierce handed out two tickets to Saturday’s Pacers game against the Orlando Magic to anyone who made a donation.
One gal told Pierce she has been meaning to go to a home game this season.
“Well, now you have a reason,” Pierce quickly replied with a smile.
About an hour in to the coat drive, a special car pulled in and parked. It was Carlisle, along with Zach Chu, the manager for game strategy and analytics. They were not only there to support Pierce’s initiative, but also to donate what appeared to be about 50 new coats.
Eddie Gill, the former Pacer who is now a member of the broadcasting team, came by and dropped off many coats.
It was a total team effort.
“We’ve always been focused on things that we either are passionate about or are very impactful, in terms of the work that they do,” Pierce said. “Trying not to do stuff where you just show up. We don’t want to just show up. I like the cameras because it amplifies Horizon House and it’s not about us, but this isn’t the last time we’ll do something with Horizon House, which is most important to my family and I.”
And there’s an emphasis on family. He didn’t just talk the talk.
Melissa arrived with their two daughters, Maya Joy and Londyn Elle. First, they unloaded many bags of coats from the back of Melissa’s white SUV and then the girls kept things light and fun as more and more cars stopped by.
Pierce is known in basketball circles and when coaching on the floor. On this Tuesday between games, he took off his coaching cap and wanted to be a positive influence in the community. His community.
He helped raise awareness for the organization while also helping others and gaining a better feel for the city.
“I think it’s always good,” he said. “I try to support all of our guys. A lot of our guys do summer camps and you already try to go and support the guys. It’s really good to see our players take the initiative and being hands on with the kids, but there’s so much to do when you’re in an urban city. There’s a lot of needs — education, shelter, homelessness — that are pressing so when you get out to help, you feel good about it.
“More importantly, this whole thing is behind the scenes. When people receive these jackets, we know we’ve done our job.”
It Wasn’t Just Pierce On Tuesday
Tyrese Haliburton and Obi Toppin also got involved with separate events in the community after practice.
One of the best annual events the Pacers community relations department used to put on was “Shop with the Pacers.” Each December, about a half-dozen players would go to the mall with a group of kids, treat them to pizza and then split off into smaller groups to check things off their Christmas list with a Simon gift card. It did not take place this year, but Haliburton did something similar.
The face of the Pacers treated 30 kids from CAFÉ, the Community Alliance Far Eastside, to a shopping spree at Academy Sports + Outdoors in Avon. They called it “Haliburton’s Holiday Hoopla” — and each kid was surprised with a $300 gift card, a new pair of shoes and a memorable night they will not forget anytime soon. And before the shopping, of course you have to eat. So they went to Buffalo Wild Wings next door.
More over, Haliburton provided CAFÉ with 100 tickets to Saturday’s game.
As for Toppin, he teamed up with CareSource and visited Brook Park Elementary in Lawrence. He met with kids, took photos and answered questions, and then a warm holiday meal was provided for many families.