On any given night, it is not unusual to find elephants, kookaburras and manatees inhabiting the Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa's hidden gem. But under the spooky moon of a Halloween night, creatures of a different breed come alive every October at this particular zoo.
In fact, dancing fairies, scary monsters and even a 300-pound zombie ventured out into the open on Monday night, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Publix Supermarkets hosted the fourth annual Halloween Celebration at Lowry Park Zoo.
That 300-pound zombie? Zane Taylor, the Buccaneer rookie who usually stalks a different kind of prey on the gridiron. The Buccaneers had the day off on Monday and Taylor traded in his helmet and shoulder pads for a more ghoulish get-up.
"We went all out," said the offensive lineman, who dressed as a zombie family along with his wife and six-week-old daughter. "It's our first real chance to do something as a family, so we might as well do it while doing something for the community."
Taylor joined teammates defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Mason Foster, cornerback Anthony Gaitor, tight end Luke Stocker, tight end Collin Franklin and running back Chad Spann for an evening of fun at the Halloween Celebration. The players, along with Captain Fear, Buccaneers cheerleaders and members of the team's staff, played host to hundreds of disadvantaged children who were the zoo's special guests.
"Like any holiday, every kid should have a chance to enjoy it to the fullest," Taylor said. "It feels great to be a part of something where a lot of kids are given the opportunity to enjoy a holiday just as much or more than other kids that are more privileged. It means a lot to be a part of that."
The players and cheerleaders, putting their pads and pom-poms to the side, took advantage of the opportunity to wear different gear to Monday night's event as they distributed candy and autographs to hundreds of trick-or-treaters.
"I love Halloween," said Foster, who dressed up as Batman. "It means a lot to me personally to see little kids, especially disadvantaged little kids, have fun. To be able to come out and give back and see them having fun and enjoying everything around them is a great experience."
This is the fourth year in a row that the Buccaneers and Publix have teamed up to provide a special Halloween experience for those less fortunate, and United Way of Tampa Bay invited children from groups including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tampa Bay and the YMCA to take part in this year's event.
"We only get so many opportunities to serve, especially during the season," Stocker said. "This is a great opportunity the Bucs' organization has set up for us. It takes me back. I remember growing up and going door-to-door asking for candy. There was a point in life when I loved to get a couple pieces of candy, too."
The Halloween Celebration not only offered satisfaction to many a sweet-toothed goblin, but also provided plenty of screams in a haunted house and an assortment of Halloween activities at the arts and crafts station.
"The Buccaneers are the most high-profile sports team in town," said Tony Laforgia, corporate relations manager at Lowry Park Zoo. "The fact that they choose to do an event here every year gives us credibility in the community to be associated with the Buccaneers. We just love it and we hope it continues."
For more information about what the Bucs are doing in the community, click here.