On Wednesday, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers helped hundreds of local kids start the school year right through their fourth annual "Lace It Up For Kids" shoe giveaway. Nearly 700 kids from across the Bay area gathered at One Buccaneer Place to receive brand new shoes and watch the team practice during training camp.
"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers support youth throughout our community, and one of the ways they do that is encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle," said Community Relations Manager Kevin Brown. "It is timed around the beginning of school so we can allow these kids to start a fresh school year with a fresh pair of shoes."
Lace It Up For Kids has now provided local charities with over 2,300 pairs of new shoes purchased by the Buccaneers for underprivileged children.
"We participated in this program last year and I think it's a great thing," said Barbara Norton of the Wilbert Davis Boys and Girls Club. "Some parents of these kids are getting them ready to go back to school and maybe can't afford new shoes for the kid. It's a good thing for the Bucs to give back to the community."
As Tampa Bay players took the field for practice, groups of boys and girls began arriving at Treasure Cove, the team's fan-friendly camp entrance at One Buccaneer Place, to receive their new shoes in a Buccaneers drawstring bag. Each pair of shoes was in the size and style previously requested by its recipient.
"Ninety-five percent of the children in the program come from a level of poverty or low income, struggling to make it day-to-day," said Jason Grooms, director of the Tampa YMCA's Sulphur Springs Community Learning Center.
Both the new shoes and the trip to training camp were special for many of the young visitors.
"A lot of [the kids] probably won't get new shoes, so these are the shoes they will have for the first day of school," said YMCA St. Petersburg senior program director Julie Goudy. "They will probably never come to a stadium and see football players in person, so this is fantastic."
As the kids watched practice, they enjoyed snacks from Pizza Hut and the Dairy Council of Florida. They also got the chance to meet and take pictures with the team's mascot, Captain Fear, and Buccaneers cheerleaders. In addition, Buccaneer players came over to the stands after practice to sign autographs and interact with the kids in attendance.
"It's fantastic. It's wonderful what [the Bucs] do," said Goudy. "Coming over here to see the Bucs, this is something these kids would never get to experience."