DE Greg White and CB Sammy Davis were two of the Buccaneers who participated in the Day of Giving, to their lasting delight
For 30 local families arriving at One Buccaneer Place expecting an exclusive tour of the facility on Tuesday morning, there was a special surprise in store.
That's because Captain Fear, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders and a group of Buccaneer players infused with holiday spirit all took part in the inaugural "Buccaneers Day of Giving." It was, the visiting families soon learned, a morning filled with much more than just a tour.
After arriving at the facility, the families gathered in the auditorium only to be told some bad news – the tour they were expecting wasn't going to happen. After a quiet groan of disappointment and uncertainty rumbled through the audience, the true reason for the families' visit was revealed.
These lucky families, selected by local nonprofit agencies, would be given much, much more on this day. Safety Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Sammy Davis took the stage and announced the first of the day's surprises – Publix and Hess gift cards for all.
Defensive end Greg White and safety Kalvin Pearson then told the families that they were expected to become huge Bucs fans – if they weren't already – since they would all be in attendance at the Dec. 30 game against Carolina. Each family was promptly presented with tickets and parking passes to the game.
There was still much more in store.
All of the parents were led out of the auditorium and through the lobby to the entryway outside One Buc Place's distinctive football. There they found bicycles and helmets, as well as MP3 players, lined up for each child. After getting the parents situated so that they could watch their children receive their next surprise, wide receiver Joey Galloway and safety Will Allen counted to three before letting the eager youngsters run around the corner and see their new toys.
It was a joyous scene, as the children jumped on their bikes and pedaled around furiously, huge smiles on their faces.
After the children were pried from their bicycles with some difficulty, one last announcement was made. The families were off to a shopping spree at a nearby Target store, where the kids could pick out any gifts they wanted.
Running back Michael Bennett and wide receiver Micheal Spurlock joined their teammates in piling onto the buses and tagging along on the shopping trip, and everyone in attendance left with bags full of presents, gift cards, tickets, bikes, and above all else, smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts.
White was stunned by the display of pure excitement in front of him as the children received one surprise after another.
"It's a wonderful feeling just to give back and to see the smiles on their faces and the looks in their eyes," White said. "It's unbelievable."
White admitted that when he was growing up, the holidays were often a difficult time for his family, but it only gave Tuesday's event that much more meaning for him.
"It's unfortunate for families that couldn't really afford stuff, and I'm sure they work hard throughout the year," he said. "We're just giving back. It's a great feeling. I was probably one of the less fortunate like these people here, so I completely understand where they're coming from. I'm glad to be here on this side of it helping them out. To see these kids get what they want, it's beautiful."
Bennett said that he was more than happy to participate in the event, because although it was all about giving, he was taking something away from the experience as well.
"It's definitely a very humbling experience to see the kids light up; they're having Christmas early," Bennett said. "It's just one of those things you're definitely proud and very happy to be a part of. It takes a lot of stress off of the families, if they can't do too much for Christmas. This is the type of stuff that you live and dream about every day."
Not only did he tag along on the Target shopping spree, Bennett even adopted four of the families in attendance and spent some of his own money buying them additional gifts.
Mario Aguilar, Cira Escamilla and their four children were one of the families Bennett chose, and his generosity was simply icing on the cake for what was already a very special day for the family.
"We feel so happy because we're going to have a happy Christmas," Aguilar said. "We didn't think that it was going to be like that. We didn't have to [purchase all these gifts], so we really appreciate what Mr. Bennett did."
Escamilla said her children were still in shock thanks to all the presents that had been showered upon them.
"They couldn't even believe it," Escamilla said. "They still are saying, 'All this is for us? This belongs to us?' It was a big surprise."
As the kids pedaled off on their shiny new bicycles and their parents toted Target bags full of gifts to load into their cars, Aguilar said this was a day – and a holiday season – his children would never forget.
"They're going to remember it for all their lives," he said. "They're never going to forget this one."