All Tiffany Walker planned to buy was a new set of cookware.
Walker, a mother of three, had been summoned to a local Target store by United Way of Tampa Bay for a shopping spree. According to a United Way rep, a generous donor had offered $250 to a deserving family for purchasing items in need. So on Tuesday, September 7, Walker left her house in St. Petersburg with three-year-old Logan and nine-year-old Shianne to travel to Tampa and buy that one much-needed item: brand new cookware.
It was there that Walker was introduced to Cheyenne Ratleff, a grandmother of two who had recently lost her job. Accompanied by three-year-old Karma and four-year-old Zoe, Ratleff arrived at the retail store under the same pretenses as Walker, looking forward to buying a few pieces of clothing and some household items for the two grandkids and her 15-year-old daughter, Kristen.
The two shoppers had to wait a bit to get started, and while store employees dressed in red shirts generously brought beverages and snacks to the families, that part was a bit tough. Despite this generous and rare opportunity to shop for free, it was rush hour in Tampa on a Tuesday afternoon, and both Ratleff and Walker knew exactly how their $250 would be spent. Minutes passed by and the children became restless, and at the end of a long day, neither family was hoping to spend much time at the store.
But when two individuals wearing red jerseys approached the families, a much larger surprise was revealed. That's because the secret donors for the day's shopping outing were Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood, and each family was being given $1,000, not $250, to shop for essential items.
As expected, the announcement was a shocking – and pleasant- surprise.
"I was just amazed," said Ratleff. "I was trying to piece it together, but then when they came in…it just stunned me."
Added Walker: "It was all a surprise. They called just about two weeks ago and told me I was getting a shopping spree for $250 and asked me if I was interested in coming to Tampa to go on my shopping spree. So here I am… little did I know that it was going to be a thousand."
After introductions were made, the families wasted little time taking to the aisles. Trueblood pushed along a shopping cart containing young Logan while Karma enjoyed a free cart ride steered by Joseph. The groups split up, hitting the desired sections to select items for the children. However, Ratleff and Walker's decisions became much harder, as their prepared shopping lists only covered a fraction of what they were now able to purchase.
Each shopper was happy to tackle this "problem."
"These are things I could never afford to buy," said Walker, whose purchases ranged from household items to clothing to toys for the kids. "These are just things I always wanted that I just could never afford to get. Brand new pots and pans, the expensive kind! House decorations. The kids got anything they wanted and they don't ever get to do that when we go to the store."
The Ratleff clan's first stop was the clothing section, where Joseph helped her select a variety of shirts, pants and dresses for her grandchildren. Then it was school supplies, where backpacks and arts and crafts supplies filled the cart. Dishwashing soap and laundry detergent made the list too, as well as cough syrup and cold medicine to stock up the bathroom cabinet.
For Ratleff, the chance to enhance their wardrobes and refill their kitchen pantry, as well as prepare for the unexpected injury or illness, was a blessing.
"It's really great because I got a lot of basic personal things that I don't have to think about," she said. "I don't have to worry about, 'Oh, let's make sure we plan this much money out for that,' because when you are on unemployment, it's kind of hard to plan for all the little things. I bought body washes and soaps, a few privilege things like the V-Tech (education system) for the kids so they can do the learning stuff, but basically everything else was just a lot of stuff we were going to need. And that's what I appreciate most. It was so much more than I expected."
The shopping spree idea was hatched by Joseph and Trueblood this past offseason while the two O-line stalwarts sat at their lockers. Their discussions on these April and May afternoons often went deeper than pass protections or blocking schemes; the two wanted to come up with a creative way to make an impact in the community all season long, helping families in need.
"We wanted to get out there more often, and what better way than to get out there every week and see if we can get a family what they want and need," said Trueblood.
Joseph approached the Buccaneers' Community Relations department with the idea, and soon enough the initiative was brought to life. As a result, the two Buccaneers are sponsoring 16 shopping sprees this season, each for $1,000, reflecting the team's 16-game schedule. For just about every week this season, either Joseph or Trueblood will surprise a different family with their donations and then assist with the shopping.
"Of course it's a pleasant surprise," said Joseph. "It's great getting to know the families. Also seeing where they're from and hearing about some of their struggles and of course being able to give back to somebody that really needs it makes you feel good and also it makes them feel good."
That "feel good" emotion was obvious with Ratleff, whose ear-to-ear grin became a constant throughout the shopping event.
"The unemployment check doesn't go very far and for all the things I can't get, this provided so many of the necessities I needed," said Ratleff. "It was just amazing to find out that somebody would be willing to give so much and yet I don't have any affiliation with them."
Added Trueblood: "It's a good feeling to see someone smiling. Knowing they come out here and get what they need and want, and not really have to worry about the price tag for the most part and get whatever little kids want, the adult wants, all that kind of stuff. It's a good feeling to be able to help them do that and the looks on their faces were priceless and that made it really worthwhile."
For Walker, who has faced financial struggles and is in the process of buying her first house, the surprise couldn't have come at a better time. The fact that it came thanks to a couple of Buccaneers made it all the more enjoyable.
"We are all Bucs fans, my whole family," said Walker. "But my uncle knows them all by first and last name. He's going to think it's amazing. It's very much overwhelming. I still don't know quite how to take it all."
While the outing proved memorable for Ratleff and Walker, Joseph and Trueblood hope it's the start of something special.
"I look forward to this being something Trueblood and I do for years to come," said Joseph. "I look forward to this event growing and maybe even getting more players involved. So, it's just a beginning, but a great start so far."