Buccaneers Cheerleaders helped the young shoppers get the most for their money
For a lot of lucky children, the holidays create lasting memories of parties, overstuffed stockings and toys in abundance.
Unfortunately, that's not the case for all children. Sometimes, only items of the barest necessity make it onto the wish list for Santa Claus.
On Saturday, however, thanks to the Glazer Family Foundation and the Buccaneers Women's Organization, 70 disadvantaged children from the Bay area were treated to a holiday shopping spree that will help make this year's season much more festive.
Before opening its doors to the general public on Saturday, a Target store in northwest Tampa welcomed youth ages 7-16 from The Children's Home and The Spring of Tampa Bay. Once inside, the special shoppers were greeted by Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders, Captain Fear and the Buccaneers Women's Organization. The eager shoppers were then matched up with a fellow customer and a shopping buddy, and each trio of guests grabbed a cart and took to the aisles to commence the spree!
The outing, funded by the Foundation and members of the Women's Organization, provided each child with a gift card valued at $75. A majority of the morning's shoppers would purchase items for their bedrooms and bathrooms to give themselves a more personal, comforting living environment. Both The Children's Home and The Spring of Tampa Bay serve as homes to youth who have been victimized by domestic abuse, neglect and abandonment.
"These kids are in situations that none of us would want anybody we know to be in, and we wanted them to have an opportunity to get things that they really wanted for their rooms and things that they can play with," said Miray Holmes, the Buccaneers' Director of Community Relations. "It's really important for us to reach out to those that are less fortunate."
It is particularly important, say those who help care for these disadvantaged children, to think of their emotional needs at this time of the year.
"When you have kids that are in foster care, there are times – especially right now during the holidays – that bring back a lot of thoughts of abuse and neglect," said Elyse Silver, a Physical Education teacher at the Helen A. Davis Elementary School, which works in conjunction with The Children's Home. "Most kids come into foster care over the holiday times, so this is a nice way for the kids to take their mind off of where they used to be and kind of have a fresh start and make their bedroom and their home a loving environment."
While children and cheerleaders cruised the aisles hand in hand, many groups found themselves reconvening in the "Bedroom" section, which proved to be a popular spot amongst the participants.
"It was fun," said 11-year old Mariah, whose seemingly shy demeanor could not suppress a smile following the shopping spree. "I bought a mirror and a lamp to go with my room, a black and white comforter, a throw pillow – I bought a lot of fun stuff to decorate my room with. My [shopping buddy] was really, really nice. She helped me find everything that I wanted."
"It breaks your heart to know that they are without the simple necessities," said Kiersten Allen. "It's wonderful the way you connect with these kids. You want to take them all home and you want to help them in any way you can."
Among the contributions the Women's Organization made was a lesson in pricing, as many kids learned how to keep track of their expenditures and manage their budget.
"They were in heaven," said Cindy Gruden. "They just loved shopping and they were busy adding up their totals and finding the best deals, so we made good shoppers out of everybody today."
As some of the morning's volunteers found out, the Glazer Family Foundation and the Women's Organization were not the only groups in the giving spirit on Saturday. Some of the children sacrificed their own items to purchase gifts for family members instead.
"I have kids of my own, and the kids that I shopped with today didn't even want to buy for themselves; they wanted to buy for their moms, their sisters and their brothers," said Melissa Bryant. "It brings everything into perspective because they had an opportunity to shop for themselves and they wanted to give back. The two kids that I shopped with bought a card for their mom, things for their brothers and sisters – what do you say to that? It was extremely heartwarming."
"The kids were very excited," said Silver. "They found out a few days ago, and just by hearing the word 'Buccaneers' with the Buccaneers Women's Organization, it really had the kids feel proud that the Buccaneers wanted to help them out. They woke up very early – it was almost like Christmas morning for the kids."
As the wives and fiancées of the players, coaches and front office staff members would attest, it is an easy decision each time they encounter an opportunity to give back to those less fortunate.
"It's just very humbling to know that with the Buccaneers name, when you go out in public, it immediately draws attention," said Gruden. "You have to do good with that."
Added Bryant: "Because we are in the position in the community to be visible, maybe if someone sees us doing things such as this, they'll feel inspired to do something as well. We have a lot of opportunities to be able to give back because of the position that we're in, so I think it's great that we all get together. It makes us more united as a team because we're doing things together and it makes us feel like a family. When you think of the holidays, you think of family, and that's what the Buccaneers are."
"It's really hard to imagine all these kids have gone through in their short lives," added Allen. "Hopefully, the Buccaneers Women's Organization made a positive difference for them today."