Somebody needed to take the reins, and Joel Bitonio didn't hesitate to answer the call.
The Browns veteran offensive lineman served as the host for the Browns' "Shop with a Pro" event at Dick's Sporting Goods on Monday. He took over for the retired Joe Thomas, who always relished the annual opportunity to give back to a number of children in such an intimate setting.
"I felt once he retired, someone needed to take over," Bitonio said. "We've always enjoyed the event. We've always loved to see the kids really excited. It's really special that we could take it over."
Bitonio was joined by a number of his Browns teammates: JC Tretter, Greg Joseph, Duke Johnson, Chris Hubbard, Austin Corbett, Brad Seaton, Jake Eldrenkamp and Mason Gentry. Together, they hosted 30 children from City of Cleveland Recreation Centers and helped them shop for holiday presents. Each child received a $200 gift card to spend on themselves, family and friends along with a new pair of shoes.
"Christmas was always the best holiday when I was growing up and to help some of these kids pick out things, and some picked out things for their family members, it's very special," Bitonio said. "The holiday season is all about giving. To see these kids pick out some gifts and some cool shows, it makes my holiday season."
The event was one of the final, special moments during the Browns' First and Ten: 10 Days of Giving. From December 9-18, the Browns announced and highlighted special community opportunities that rallied the entire organization and Cleveland together to make a difference through the collaboration of executives, coaches, players, staff and Browns fans.
The Browns players who were on site Monday got to witness the kind of impact they can make first-hand.
"It means a lot to the kids," Joseph said. "They get stuff they actually need. It means a lot to us to see how such simple things we think are simple means the world to them. I'll do it every time and enjoy doing it."
"Anything like this, it's just nice to give back and donate your time," Tretter said. "It's just a great event. You want to give back at this time of year, especially."
Through Browns Give Back, the Cleveland Browns are dedicated to #give10 through the team's First and Ten initiative. Launched in June 2014, the Cleveland Browns First and Ten campaign is the team's community program, established to inspire fans to volunteer in and help their communities throughout the world by volunteering for 10 hours each year. Through First and Ten, the Browns are the only NFL club to promote a long-term volunteering program that unifies the team and its entire fan base, with the goal of impacting every individual's city across the globe, as well as the franchise's local community. All Browns fans are encouraged to join the volunteering effort by signing the First and Ten pledge on the team's website and by sharing their stories with #give10. For more information or to sign the pledge, visit www.clevelandbrowns.com/brownsgiveback.