Although Santa Claus is getting ready to place presents under trees in two weeks, 30 local kids from City of Cleveland Recreation Centers celebrated Christmas a little early at DICK'S Sporting Goods in North Olmsted on Monday as part of Browns' guard Joel Bitonio’s annual 'Shop with a Pro' event.
As part of the Browns "10 Days of Giving" and originally started by former Browns great Joe Thomas, Bitonio and several teammates took the children around the store with $200 each to spend on themselves, family and friends.
The spree was made possible through the generosity of Bitonio, his wife Courtney and the DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation.
After selecting a new pair of shoes, the kids and players roamed the store trying on new clothes, playing with various sporting balls, riding bikes and enjoying the hour. Pizza, refreshments, photos and autographed pennants were handed out throughout the course of the evening.
For Bitonio, the season of giving means stepping up and giving back to a place that has given him so much in six years.
"The community is so supportive of us," Bitonio said. "For us to come out and give back for a few hours, it's really easy for us and it's fun to interact with the kids. The kids are the future. You see their bright personalities and it makes your day a little bit better."
One of the more touching points in the night is witnessing child after child taking the opportunity and finances presented to them and immediately thinking of what they can get others.
"The fact that it's instilled in them to want to do for others, it's one of the biggest blessings and it fills you up with joy because I can remember growing up without much," tackle Kendall Lamm said. "For them to think about their family in the midst of what they're going through is amazing. It goes to show the power of people even at a young age."
The Northeast Ohio community will continue to see the Brown and Orange out and about in the near future. Throughout "10 Days of Giving," spanning Dec. 8-17, Browns players, coaches and staff will host unique community events and make special contributions to various organizations during the holiday season as part of the team's yearlong commitment to education, youth football and inspiring others through its signature First and Ten volunteer movement.
The extended week of community engagement, initially inspired by the Browns' signature #give10 First and Ten volunteer movement, has expanded in recent years to fully encompass the team's commitment to supporting school attendance in Ohio through the "Get 2 School, Stay in the Game!" Network and its yearlong efforts to enhance youth and high school football throughout the state.