But McCoy is 25 now, a married man and a father, and this year he and his wife Ebony chose to celebrate Christmas a little differently. In a way, it was a role reversal, with McCoy taking on the job of Santa.
On December 23, the McCoys brought 10 single mothers and their children – families who have been working hard to make ends meet – to a hotel ballroom for a special surprise just in time for Christmas. Grinning from ear to ear, Gerald and Ebony told the 30 assembled moms and kids that it was time to go shopping.
“It’s just us blessing somebody else with the blessings we’ve been given,” said McCoy.
With support from the Buccaneers’ Community Relations department, Buccaneers Cheerleader Cassie, and team mascot Captain Fear, the families – all selected by United Way Suncoast for their efforts to achieve self-sufficiency – were surprised by McCoy with an invitation to the Build-A-Bear Workshop in the adjacent mall, where the majority of the children would personally create their own stuffed animals. While the group’s youngest shoppers customized their teddy bears, McCoy led the remaining teenagers downstairs to a shoe store, where each teen selected a brand new pair of shoes.
Though shy at first, the teens couldn’t help but relax and joke around with the sociable McCoy, who encouraged them to pick out any pair of shoes they wanted. Back upstairs, kids enjoyed picking out and naming new stuffed animals that were almost as big as they were, and McCoy eventually joined in on the fun – creating a teddy bear of his own.
After all 20 children were armed with a new pair of kicks or a new fluffy friend, the families were led back to the ballroom they originally occupied. Upon entry, McCoy encouraged each child to search for his or her name, as the previously bare carpet now revealed piles of gifts scattered around the room. Screams of excitement spread down the hallway as the kids sorted through $250 worth of gifts from each of their wish lists for Santa, ranging from headphones and gaming consoles to dolls and skateboards, and even baby seats for the infants.
“Our children, we didn’t really want to do a big Christmas for them because they’re blessed, they don’t need anything,” said Ebony. “We wanted to be the blessing to someone else.”
With the mothers holding back tears of joy and the kids enjoying their new toys, McCoy gathered everyone together again to make one more announcement: Each family would also be receiving a $200 Publix Super Market gift card to help purchase food to celebrate the holiday season.
“This experience has been above and beyond anything I could have imagined.” said Tawanna Larkin, one of the mothers. “This is awesome, just for the McCoy family to come out and do this is truly amazing, especially for single parents.”
As the McCoys roamed the room to share in the excitement of the gift-giving experience, it was clear how thankful both kids and mothers alike were for such a meaningful and unexpected night.
For Brandy Martin, it was more than she could’ve imagined for her family.
“I am overwhelmed, I am just so grateful,” said Martin “My kids are more than excited; I appreciate it so much. I have two, my kids are five and 16, and they got what they wanted and I am just… Wow, that is so nice.”
“I don’t think anybody could ever understand how amazing it is to be able to make a difference in someone’s life,” added Ebony. “This is something I think they’ll always remember.”