Roy Miller scanned the stacks of cereal in front of him, taking several seconds before selecting the box he wanted and placing it in a nearby shopping basket. He then continued down the aisle towards the canned goods, where he searched for fruits and vegetables that would complement a hearty supper.
Miller, rookie defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wasn't walking the aisles of a local grocery store, however, and in fact he wasn't even shopping for himself. All the food he selected would go to a grateful patron of the "Metro Market," thanks to the generosity of the Bay area community and a little shopping assistance from Miller and a dozen of his fellow rookie Buccaneers.
The 13 Buccaneers Rookie Club members were on hand at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa on Tuesday to help prepare for the Ministries' "Holiday Assistance Program," a huge holiday-season effort that provides food, toys and other services to the less-fortunate members of the Tampa Bay community.
Miller was joined by cornerbacks Brandon Anderson and E.J. Biggers, center Jonathan Compas, safety Emanuel Cook, tackle Demar Dotson, offensive lineman Marc Dile, defensive end Maurice Evans, quarterback Josh Freeman, tackle Xavier Fulton, cornerback Mike Mickens, fullback Chris Pressley, tight end Ryan Purvis and wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, The group of rookies spent several hours at the Ministries on Tuesday afternoon taking part in what has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition for the newest group of Buccaneers.
The group first reported to a collection of huge tents dubbed the "Holiday Center," which houses the community outreach effort. The players then spent an hour checking in clients, serving snacks, moving boxes of supplies and sorting the various types of foods and other goods into their assigned areas.
The Holiday program begins on Friday and will last through Christmas. Needy members of the Tampa Bay community can register with Metropolitan Ministries to take part and can benefit in a number of ways.
Under the large tents, families and individuals will be able to visit a grocery store-style area full of shelves of various food and pick what they like to eat, or instead opt for pre-packaged boxes stuffed with all types of food. They can also pick up a holiday turkey or chicken to enjoy, receive a warm meal on Thanksgiving, get a medical checkup, select donated toys to give as gifts to their children, enjoy various forms of entertainment to lift their holiday spirits, and much more.
In fact, the overall effort is expected to serve more than 30,000 families and help more than 150,000 less-fortunate individuals before all is said and done – something that not only impressed the Buccaneers volunteers but served as an inspiration.
"It opened up my eyes a lot," said Stroughter, who hails from California. "Being integrated into the Tampa society and just seeing the people that really, really need this attention… this attention is priceless. It's one of those things that just allows you to continue and make you work even harder because you are blessed. [You] thank the Lord for everything you have but also put yourself in a better situation so when you can give, if it's just your attention, if that's just being there for somebody, that's always helpful."
Added Freeman: "In the position we are in, for us to be able to go out and play football on Sundays, it's really big to help out with the community. Being integrated in the community and getting to know people that we represent on a week-to-week basis is great."
The Bucs' newest members weren't the only ones lending a hand at Metropolitan Ministries on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, the Buccaneers Women's Organization, made up of wives and fiancees of Bucs players, coaches and front office members, stopped by the facility to sort food, fold boxes and spend time with youth from the Ministries' child care program.
"This is something that we look forward to as an organization every year," said Ana Maria Mendez, public relations coordinator for Metropolitan Ministries. "We're so excited when the guys come down and the ladies come down because it's a treat for our children that are here at the Ministries. Many of them, these are their heroes and they get to meet them in real life and that's just nice for the children. The ladies are always such hard workers; we had them this morning packing and sorting food and loading them into trucks that were going out to our 47 partners today."
For the rookie Miller, the visit to the Ministries' campus wasn't his first. Back in September he volunteered with running back Kareem Huggins and tackle James Lee to get a tour of the facility and play games at its afterschool program. At the time, the large tents had not yet been raised and the planning stages for the Ministries' holiday efforts were still underway.
"We came here before, and we didn't get to see how this place works in full effect," said Miller. "Now, we come here and get to see what they do for the holidays. Feeding families meals, talking about giving kids gifts for Christmas, it's just amazing to see the kids and to see all the people it touches. We got the opportunity to hand out food today and just to be able to meet those people and see how excited they are to get a box of cereal… they didn't have any options, they just chose one thing of cereal and were excited just to have that. It just makes you feel really good to put a smile on peoples' faces."
Stroughter not only enjoyed spending time with the children but also serving snacks and popping popcorn – a skill that apparently took a bit of fine-tuning.
"We were serving [food], playing with the kids, passing out treats, making popcorn," the wide receiver said. "I actually got to make the popcorn and that was pretty fun. I messed up the first batch, I'm not going to lie, but the second batch was a little bit better. Just to see the families were very thankful to have that put things in perspective."
For the rookie class as a whole, the afternoon not only opened their eyes to the needs in the community, but to the experiences they share as teammates.
"We got a special group of guys, the rookies," said Miller. "Guys who work hard on the field – and as you can see, they work just as hard off the field, coming out here supporting the community. I think it does good for our program and the future of our program. The community gets to see the young guys and these are the type of things we like to do. We're just trying to change and continue to shape our image. We're a young group as a team and we just want to continue molding our image in a positive way in the community."
Noted Stroughter: "It just forms that bond, especially as rookies. Like Coach [Morris] said and like we've said, we're setting a whole new standard for the rookie class. We're going to be something to be reckoned with. And the rookie class that we have, we'd like to compare it to [those of] Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks and hopefully in due time we can show the community and show everybody what we're working for."