Everyone is getting in the holiday spirit this season and the Buccaneers' offensive line is no different. They surprised 50 children and their families at the Metropolitan Ministries' Holiday Tent with gifts and surprises on Monday evening.
Families were brought into the decorated tent under the guise of a holiday meal that they could enjoy together. After pictures with Buccaneers' cheerleaders and Captain Fear, they quickly realized that's not all they were there for.
"I was thinking it was just a little dinner for the kids – that's it," said Larrishia Higgins, who has a seven-year old daughter, Miliani. "Just to see my daughter's face light up – I'm just here for her and that big smile."
To start the surprises off, students and their mentors from the Buccaneers' Youth Leadership Program played Santa Claus as they handed out bags of gifts addressed to each individual child around the tent. And while kids were rummaging through their bags to see what the team had brought for them, parents were surprised with $250 Publix gift cards, along with an $875 donation from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation to assist with TECO utility expenses in 2022.
"That was a big relief and a big blessing. People go through a lot of things every year," said Higgins, who said the whole experience has made her 'feel like a feather' and more encouraged for the year to come. "That's a big weight off your shoulders to give you a chance to get on your feet this holiday season. Somebody is actually thinking about people, rather than themselves. It gives everyone the chance to feel thought about instead of forgotten about."
To know that those people were offensive linemen Donovan Smith, Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen, Alex Cappa, Tristan Wirfs, Nick Leverett, Aaron Stinnie, Josh Wells, Robert Hainsey, John Molchon, Brandon Walton and coaches Harold Goodwin, Joe Gilbert and A.Q. Shipley, made it that much more special.
"I was like hey, Go Bucs!" said Higgins, smiling.
View photos of the Bucs O-Line Lights up Christmas event.
Though the offensive line wasn't able to be there in person due to COVID-19 protocols, they sent their well wishes and one more surprise as a video announcement from the players came that each family would be boarding busses to head to a local Target for a $400 shopping spree. The finale was met with cheers and looks of shock from children around the tent. Families then boarded busses together and children were able to pick out their own holiday gifts with the help of Bucs cheer, Captain Fear and Buccaneers staff members, while enjoying more treats and goodies as they shopped.
"I was so happy and so excited," said Jamariya Montgomery, one of the children participating in the event. "I think it was really cool and awesome that [the Bucs' offensive line] took the time out of their day to do this for us."
"I am really grateful because not everyone gets surprises like that," said her sister, Shavarii. "When we found out we were going to Target it was like a whole new world. Now I can get Christmas gifts for my family."
It was all made possible through more than $50,000 in donations from the team, including contributions from each member of the Buccaneers' offensive line, offensive line coaches and a matching grant from the Buccaneers Foundation Social Justice Fund. The Social Justice Fund, established in 2018 by the Glazer family, matches player donations to the Tampa Bay community that help break down barriers to racial and social equality.
The Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent is one of multiple locations that is providing food and meals for local families experiencing hardship around the Tampa Bay area this holiday season. To get involved or donate, visit https://www.metromin.org/holiday-central/.