As America raced to their computers for Cyber Monday deals, St. Justin's children took to the aisles of their local Target store for an unforgettable shopping experience. Lists in hand, the fifteen youth anxiously waited to receive their VISA gift cards and their personal shopper to ensure that their families' wish lists were checked twice and crossed off. Taking over the job of the jolly man in red this holiday season was a group of men in red—and gold—including 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin, center Jonathan Goodwin and their teammates Joe Looney, Michael Thomas, Quinton Dial, and several others.
Over the years, the young children of St. Justin's School have donated their time to helping others within their church and community, and though all of the youth at the Visa "Shop with a Player" event wore giggles and smiles, some have recently dealt with struggles of their own, including the news of a mother's diagnosis of cancer and a father losing his job right before the holidays. The mission of the day was to bring a merrier season to loved ones with the hope that it would also bring holiday cheer to the young person.
"I can imagine the families of these children lighting up with surprise and excitement once they receive the gift and see how much thought was poured into it by their child, grandchild or sibling," said 49ers guard Joe Looney.
Once given the green light, the kids and players grabbed their holiday-themed shopping cart -resembling a parade float decorated in lights, garland and shiny ornaments. Instantly, those involved were consumed with holiday spirit. Safety Eric Reid and quarterback Colt McCoy looked over the lists of seven-year olds Sasha and Colby which included games, clothes, electronics and more.
"We want to get involved and make people happy, especially around this time of year," said Reid.
"The kids were great and incredibly fun to be around," added McCoy, "Hopefully their Christmas will be more enjoyable because of this experience."
From a young age, tackle Luke Marquardt has been an avid volunteer in the community and was thrilled to have the opportunity to share that quality with three young ladies of St. Justin's Parish who had offered to shop for fellow parishioners of their church who are in need this December. The group loaded their carts with blankets, apparel, toys and essentials to shine light on those dealing with struggles such as the economic downturn, poor health or simply bad luck.
"It is an honor to have the opportunity to get involved and to have had a chance to interact with these great kids," expressed Marquardt, "God has given me an incredible gift to be here, and I do not take that for granted, so I am here to give back in any way I can and hopefully encourage others to do so as well."
As the carts filled to the brim with items the children's family members had dreamt of receiving for Christmas, the shoppers grabbed a roll of wrapping paper and ribbon to add their final touches. Insisting on adding to the holiday cheer, 49ers safety Bubba Ventrone and guard Al Netter and their teammates encouraged their shopping partner to choose a gift for themselves as a reward for their selflessness and commitment to bettering the holidays of others. Upon checkout, the youth swiped their Visa gift cards and bagged the items, beaming as they realized that they would be able to take home everything their families had wished for this season.
"Visa has a continuous mission to give back to the community," stated Sree Nemana of Visa Financial Operations, "To be here to see the smiles on these children's faces and know that their families will have the same reaction is humbling and reminds us that this season is about giving to others and doing what we can to better the lives of those in our community."
It has been said that the manner of giving is worth more than the gift, and that is exactly what the children of St. Justin's Parish Community conveyed. The day concluded with the children boarding a school bus with bags in hand and grins from ear-to-ear. These smiles were not because of anything they were to take home for themselves, but because of the warmth and cheer they hoped to bring to their families. Visa, the 49ers, St. Justin's Parish and all those involved walked away from the day's activities reminded of the true meaning of the season and inspired to bring a happier holiday to all.