Jadeveon Clowney walked through the toy aisle at Meijer with a few kids by his side and watched as their eyes lit up with excitement.
Clowney, the Browns' veteran defensive end, was treating 25 kids to a shopping spree Monday at the store in Seven Hills to give back during the holiday season. The kids were a part of Passages, an organization that assists Northeast Ohio families with services aimed at empowering them to improve their lives and successfully achieve family resiliency and financial independence, and they were all receiving $200 gift cards courtesy of Clowney and Meijer to spend at their leisure.
As Clowney walked through the aisle, several kids were gazing at the wide assortment of Nerf guns, action figures, stuffed animals, board games and more. Volunteers — which included other Browns players in Ronnie Harrison Jr., Malik Jackson, Curtis Weaver and Ifeadi Odenigbo — pushed shopping carts full of items and guided kids through their purchases for an unforgettable shopping trip.
"This is always important to me," said Clowney, who has hosted similar events in various NFL home cities he's lived in since he was drafted first overall by the Houston Texans in 2014. "It's fun to do things like this this time of year, and I know these kids are looking forward to it and may not have a Christmas."
Clowney grew up under a similar situation as some of the kids when he was a child in Rock Hill, South Carolina. He was raised in a single-parent home and spent most of his youth living with his mom and sister, and seeing his mom hustle to provide her two kids a stable life motivated him to pursue his NFL dreams and one day have an opportunity to give back to her and others.
An NFL career that has now nearly spanned a decade has allowed him to do it with joy. Clowney, who's also spent parts of his career in Seattle and Tennessee, has made it a priority to host a shopping event for kids every year, and watching the glowing faces of kids as they peruse the aisles has always provided him a warm feeling of fulfillment.
"I always wanted to have more stuff, but my mom was always like, 'It's just me, and I'm fighting to try to get you it,'" he said. "It's great now to be able to take care of her and give back to people, and I'm here now and I'm able to do so.
"During this time of the year especially, it's important to lift kids up who might be less fortunate. I just like to see smiles on their faces."
There were plenty of them. A few of the kids jumped and smiled together as they held super-sized stuffed animal unicorns and bears, and others were eager to race home and partake in a Nerf battle or pop in Madden 22 to their video game console.
It's the kind of experience Jeremy Langham, the Vice President of Development and Engagement at Passages, hopes to give kids and their families in the organization.
"We're just really excited to be a part of this," Langham said. "We had the fortune of Jadeveon and the Browns reaching out to us to be a part of this amazing event. When there was an outreach, we thought it was perfect. They're able to pick out their favorite gifts, and we're just looking to make it an awesome holiday experience for every single one of them."
Clowney's event was part of the Browns' "10 Days of Giving" initiative as they strive to lift spirits of those in need throughout Northeast Ohio during the holiday season. The initiative includes Browns players, coaches and staff who all participate in special community events and make meaningful contributions to deserving organizations or individuals as part of the team's yearlong commitment to promoting education and youth football, as well as inspiring others through its signature First and Ten volunteering movement.