Two days before Christmas, Santa Claus made a special visit to Raymond James Stadium to deliver presents to more than 100 boys and girls with the help of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
During halftime of the Buccaneers' game against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, St. Nick was joined on the field by Buccaneers Cheerleaders, team mascot Captain Fear and a large group of local youth invited through United Way Suncoast for a memorable holiday experience. It was the Buccaneers' "Day of Giving," and it made for a brighter holiday season for a large number of local families.
On cue, children ranging in age from one to 17 raced onto the stadium turf, heading for the Buccaneers' logo at midfield. There, a row of holiday sacks were filled with $200 worth of gifts from each child's wish list. In total, the Buccaneers helped Santa Claus deliver more than $20,000 in presents to children who may not have otherwise received gifts this holiday season.
The smile on the face of 13-year-old Craig Cook went from ear to ear as he opened the sack Santa brought from him, which included the most treasured gift on his list.
"I got Dre Beats [headphones]!" Cook exclaimed. "This is so exciting."
In addition to the halftime giveaway, each participant received tickets and food vouchers to enjoy the Buccaneers game. While the entire game day experience was enjoyable for Tomeca Broxton, halftime was the best part, and watching her son receive a new bike was "pure excitement."
"This means everything to us," Broxton said. "We've been treated so well and everything has been going so good."
United Way Community and Partnership Manager Paula Kay couldn't hold back a smile of her own as she recalled a moment of joy she witnessed during the gift-giving spree.
"One of the kids got some games for his [Nintendo] DS, and he said, 'Wow, wow, wow!" Kay related. "His excitement to even share with his brother and show his parents was incredible."