FSU football players help Boys and Girls Club with Christmas shopping spree

2021-12-24 07:49:29 By : Ms. Christine Zhang

Two buses loaded with children arrive at a Tallahassee Walmart, fervently excited even though they have no clue about the situation they were walking into.

They have no idea they're about to handed Walmart gift cards to be able to do some Christmas shopping, they're going to get to participate in some football drills and receive more money for their families.

And they're going to get to do all of this while meeting members of the Florida State football team.

These kids got this special afternoon on Dec. 7 thanks to the Holiday Shop with a Player event created by FSU offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons and his Big Man Big Heart non-profit in partnership with FSU quarterback Jordan Travis.

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"(Jordan) actually came up to me about two months ago, middle of the season and said, 'Dillan, I want to get involved. I want to do something, I want to give back,'" Gibbons said ahead of the event.

"With that, I kind of came up with the creative process with him and my family and my organization for this awesome idea for a holiday event. We've pulled some inspiration from other events that we've seen around town, we worked to put together this event."

In less than two weeks' time, Gibbons and Travis raised over $10,000 for the event through a GoFundMe page. They reached out to the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend to find children in need who would benefit greatly from the opportunity.

In all, 30 children from the organization were brought to Walmart on buses where they were surprised to see a few FSU players they may have seen play this season.

Among the 20ish FSU players in attendance along with Travis and Gibbons were offensive linemen Devontay Love-Taylor and Maurice Smith, linebacker Amari Gainer and backup quarterback Tate Rodemaker.

All of them volunteered their time freely for the event, wanting to help make this holiday season a special one for these local children.

"It's all about giving back for me. That's why I do what I do," Travis told the Democrat.

"Using our platform that we have every single day giving back to kids, giving back to people who deserve it."

Outside the Walmart, the 30 children were each given a $100 gift card and told they could buy anything they wanted. They were escorted by FSU players around the store in what quickly became a frantic scavenger hunt of sorts.

The excitement as these children was clear as they raced up and down the aisles, facing tough decisions of how to best utilize their money.

Some shopped for family members, picking out candles and house decorations for their mothers or stuffed animals for their siblings. Others made personal choices, heading straight to the toys section and loading their carts up with scooters and nerf guns for the boys or clothes, shoes and accessories for some of the girls.

A few were keeping track of how much they had left by using a calculator. One child asked if he could get cash back off the gift card so that he could give back to his family.

However they elected to spend their money, the elation on all faces, FSU players and Boys and Girls Club kids alike, was a sight to behold.

"This is huge for our kids. Big Man Big Heart is a big deal for the Boys and Girls Club kids," Kacy Dennis, the CEO and President of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend told the Democrat.

"Most of the kids we serve are at-promise or at-risk. We serve kids who live below the poverty level so having the opportunity to come out and have a $100 shopping spree, that's a big deal for our kids for sure...

"COVID kind of shut us down. We're back open, serving a lot of kids and Dillan came through in the nick of time to help our kids during Christmas."

The name, image and likeness era in college athletics has been a gamechanger for Gibbons.

More on Gibbons' NIL efforts:On a weekend of reunions for Florida State lineman Dillan Gibbons, one stood out the most

While a number of college athletes have benefitted personally from their newfound ability to appear in advertisements, endorse products and be paid to make appearances, the Florida State offensive lineman has used his platform to give back.

He became the first college athlete sponsored by GoFundMe after his fundraising campaign to help Timothy Donovan and his family attend FSU's first game of the season against Notre Dame went viral. Donovan is wheelchair bound with a few rare conditions and met Gibbons when the Clearwater native was a freshman offensive lineman at Notre Dame.

In all, Big Man Big Heart's projects have now raised over $160,000 for an array of charitable causes in less than six months' time. Until July when the new NIL legislation was instituted, events and fundraising like this would have been illegal for a student-athlete according to NCAA rules.

"We have a pretty loud voice as athletes. I'm just an offensive lineman. Who really cares about one offensive lineman at Florida State? But that power of my voice has been amplified well beyond my years, well beyond my actual work just from the power of doing good," Gibbons said.

"That's what I'm trying to do with Big Man Big Heart, empowering athletes through the process of doing good, starting initiatives, following through and being there for people."

The Walmart shopping spree, as thrilling as it was, was just the tip of the iceberg that Big Man Big Heart had planned for the Boys and Girls Club children.

After that, the kids and football players traveled to FSU's campus. There, the FSU football strength and conditioning staff had set up a football camp for the kids to participate in inside FSU's Indoor Practice Facility.

Finally, the event concluded back at the Boys and Girls Club building. There, each family was surprised with an additional $100 Walmart gift card and a pizza when they picked their children up.

In all, the $10,000 that Travis and Gibbons helped raise with an assist from the FSU and Tallahassee communities went a long way towards giving 30 local families a very happy holiday season.

"It means everything. This is amazing," Travis said.

"This is what players have been trying to push for many years now. It's a blessing."

Reach Curt Weiler at cweiler@tallahassee.com or follow him on Twitter @CurtMWeiler.

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