Nine-year-old Gianni Ortiv does not have the privilege of owning many toys, but when she got a chance to increase her collection Saturday, she instead thought of the needs of others.
Ortiv took part in a rather remarkable shopping spree this past weekend, along with 249 other kids who were invited to a Target store in northwest Tampa by the Glazer Family Foundation. She even had a personal aide to help her find anything on her holiday wish list, but surprisingly her first stop wasn't the toy section. Instead, she headed for women's clothing and accessories.
"I got my mom a sweater with flowers on it, and I got her a white watch," said a smiling Ortiv. Why did she spend her sudden windfall on others? Her answer summed up the entire event: "Because it's all about giving."
To conduct their annual Holiday Shopping Spree for disadvantaged children in the Bay area, the Glazer Family Foundation enlisted the help of Target and five local nonprofit organizations: Directions for Mental Health, Police Athletic League of Tampa, The Children's Home, The Spring of Tampa Bay and West Tampa Boys and Girls Club. Children from those programs were invited into the Target store early in the morning, before the store's doors were open to the public, and there they were greeted by dozens of helpers, including employees of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"For one reason or another, life has dealt these kids an unfortunate blow," said Miray Holmes, community relations director for the Glazer Family Foundation and the Buccaneers. "But we want to make them feel like they're no different from anyone else this holiday season who wants to go shopping for themselves and their families."
The aides that helped these special shoppers fill up their carts included Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders, team mascot Captain Fear, Buccaneers Student Ambassadors, members of the Buccaneers Women's Organization and other team staffers. The eager shoppers were matched up with a volunteer and allowed to hit the aisles and commence filling their carts.
"The kids here just have such a different heart," said second-year veteran Cheerleader Kara Partin. "They have so many needs that a typical child doesn't have, so I really wanted to come today and speak with the kids, get to walk around with them and hang out with them. They're just like every other child; they want to have a great Christmas."
And yes, as selfless as many of the young shoppers proved to be, the toy department still proved quite popular, to everyone's delight. Some headed to that section first, perhaps not quite ready to believe their good fortune.
"A lot of the kids didn't believe it at first, but once they got on the bus this morning, they hit the door, and it became a reality," said Shervin Rassa, area director for the Boys and Girls Club of Tampa Bay. "It was just neat to see them."
Rookie cheerleader Kasey Harrington jumped at the opportunity to assist six-year-old Nakita Richardson, with whom she shared much in common.
"I like to shop, she likes to shop, she loves pink," said Harrington. "She went straight for the earrings. We had a great time. It was really neat just to see her excitement coming here today. Just the whole experience was awesome. Even pushing around the cart she got excited. It was a lot of fun to see."
Saturday's outing was funded by the Foundation, which has sponsored a holiday event for children in need since 2000.
"This is my favorite event because it really allows the kids to go shopping on their own, which is an opportunity they wouldn't often have," Holmes said. "They don't have the funding, for one reason or another. They're in a group home, they're underserved. It really kind of empowers them to be able to go shopping on their own, select things for themselves. It's our way of celebrating the season with them."
The Foundation hoped the event would provide a memorable holiday experience for everyone involved. As some of the helpers found out, event staff and volunteers weren't the only ones in the giving spirit. As was the case with Ortiv, many children sacrificed their own items to purchase gifts for others.
"What was really humbling was to see that some of our kids were looking out for some of their younger brothers and sisters, so it was really good to see that human nature in our kids," Rassa said.
Saturday's event went a long way toward creating a memorable holiday for everyone involved.
"Events like this are monumental for the development of our youth, just giving them the opportunities to feel that they are loved by their community and by the Glazer Family Foundation," Rassa concluded.