In a December unlike any other, Tampa Bay Buccaneers players have remained active in their community support, spearheading a variety of events to bring surprises, gifts and holiday cheer to children and families throughout Tampa Bay and the greater state of Florida.
To kick off the week of Christmas, on Monday the Buccaneers surprised 65 children from the East Tampa community with a holiday party and gifts for the ninth annual "D-Line Delivers Christmas" event. A yearly tradition, the "D-Line Delivers Christmas" surprised the youths with a variety of presents – including a new Microsoft Surface, Wi-Fi hotspot with service paid for a year, a Buccaneers gift basket, Target gift card and a pre-lit Christmas tree courtesy of Lowe's – helping to bridge the "digital divide" that many children face while providing a memorable holiday experience thanks to the entire defensive line and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation.
"With us still in the midst of a pandemic, kids not going to school and not being able to have that holiday cheer that you would see at school and in the community, and a lot of people at home struggling and some people not even having jobs, it's definitely a big burden," said Ndamukong Suh. "You just want to bring some joy to people, especially through some very, very difficult times that we're all going through."
Giving back this holiday season has been a team effort, with players coordinating their charitable work through support from dozens of Buccaneers staff members, Buccaneers Cheerleaders, Captain Fear and partners including Publix, PDQ, Dunkin', Raymond James, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital and Lowe's. Initiated by the players' desire to give back, their efforts are strengthened through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation Social Justice Fund, established in 2018 by the Glazer family in conjunction with the launch of the team's Social Justice Initiative.
"With the Social Justice Initiative that we have here, which is amazing, the Bucs Foundation matches us dollar for dollar," added Suh. "As a defensive line, we put a pretty big allotment in and then the foundation matched it so we can have double the power going out into the community in East Tampa and supporting these kids."
Matching grants by the fund amplify the impact of player charitable donations to causes that help break down barriers to racial and social equality. This Christmas, the Social Justice Fund has provided more than $40,000 in matching grants to local organizations to help provide even more support to community members in need this holiday season.
"It's being a part of the community that really is important," said City of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. "Being woven into the fabric of Tampa Bay is what defines the Buccaneers as an incredible, first-class organization."
On December 22, linebacker Lavonte David and the Lavonte Legends Foundation was busy lending a helping hand by supporting nearly 150 Tampa women and youths in need of assistance. Families from The Spring of Tampa Bay, Miracles Outreach Community and G3 Life Applications received Christmas presents and essential gifts courtesy of David.
Also on Tuesday, more than 140 kids in Deerfield Beach, Florida – hometown of 2021 Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul, visited the Jim and Jan Moran Boys & Girls Club where they were surprised with new bikes, helmets and autographed Pierre-Paul jerseys courtesy of the Buccaneers' outside linebacker and the Buccaneers Foundation.
"I was one of those kids," said Pierre-Paul. "I'm just paying it forward and giving back. Hopefully, those kids can recognize that one day and they'll do the same… they'll say, 'I remember this person gave me a great Christmas, so why not do that for somebody else?' That's what I'm doing."
The team's holiday outreach kicked off last week, when the Buccaneers hosted a holiday party for the team's Youth Leadership Program, which supports 25 students from Young Middle School in East Tampa who have been mentored by players and staff this year as part of the Buccaneers Social Justice Initiative. Buccaneers staff mentors and their mentees enjoyed holiday fun, meals from PDQ, and some special gifts including board games from quarterback Ryan Griffin, earbuds from cornerback Ryan Smith and Fitbits from Raymond James.
The following day, 25 local foster families supported by A Door of Hope visited Overflow Church in Valrico where they were surprised by Captain Fear, Buccaneers Cheerleaders and a happy holiday message from Week 15 NFC Defensive Player of the Week Devin White. A Christmas party, food, and stacks of gifts were provided for all of the families thanks to White and the Buccaneers Foundation.
Buccaneers Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee Mike Evans and his wife, Ashli, surprised six local families battling tough times this holiday season for their foundation's annual "Catch For Christmas" initiative. Unable to host a series of in-person charity events like previous years, the couple collaborated with the Bucs Street Team, Cheerleaders and Captain Fear to deliver Buccaneers gear, gifts and thousands of dollars in Publix gift cards along with a holiday message from Mike and Ashli to offer some support this season.
Players have embraced the virtual nature of connecting with the community. Running back LeSean McCoy hosted a Zoom call with two local families battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and facing particularly challenging circumstances this year – McCoy surprised the families with large bundles of Buccaneers gifts and the news that they'll be enjoying shopping sprees courtesy of McCoy. Linebacker Kevin Minter and wide receiver Justin Watson, in collaboration with the Beyond The Basics Foundation, hosted a Zoom call to surprise 24 bay-area families representing every Boys & Girls Club in Tampa Bay with $800 Amazon shopping sprees. And the Buccaneers rookie class – including tackle Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield, Jr., Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Tyler Johnson – carried on a Buccaneers rookie holiday tradition of visiting patients at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg by greeting children over video to raise their spirits while hospital staff delivered Buccaneers gifts courtesy of the players.
The aforementioned efforts are still an incomplete list of the many Buccaneers players who are giving back this holiday season, continuing a year-round trend established by the team.