Welcoming 200 local elementary school students to FedExField, the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation on Monday hosted its annual Skins Santa Shoppe along with several Redskins players and wives.
The Redskins locker room at FedExField functions in a variety of ways during the football season. Mostly, it is a place to change clothes, a place of meditation, of focus, of frustration and exhilaration, and it can all be quite smelly.
So it was quite a surprise for the 200 local elementary school students visiting the stadium Monday, and quite frankly for the players, too, to see the same locker room serve in another, transformative way – as Santa's workshop.
"Usually when I come in here it's a different switch that gets put on in my head," safety Kyshoen Jarrett said. "But right now, I'm feeling all nice and warm and fuzzy inside."
It was hard not to feel that way. Cleaned up and decorated with Christmas colors, tables of toys and stuffed animals and filled with some holiday music, the locker room, filled with active Marines, welcomed the elementary students, who filed in group by group to greet Santa Claus and rush to a locker with their name above it and a gift beneath it.
It was the biggest surprise and lasting impression of the annual "Skins Santa Shoppe," put on by the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation, which took on an expanded and highly entertaining format this time over years past.
Along with teachers and chaperones, children from Thomson Elementary School and Cleveland Elementary School arrived at FedExField for the first shift of the day, later followed by Ardmore Elementary School and Apple Grove Elementary School. A meal awaited them as well as several Redskins players and Redskins wives, who sat and talked over lunch and then assisted with their assigned groups on the stadium's club level.
Those that attended – linebackers Houston Bates, Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy, running back Alfred Morris, wide receiver Jamison Crowder, specialists Dustin Hopkins, Nick Sundberg and Tress Way, safety Kyshoen Jarrett and offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio – joined in helping with the arts and crafts tables, the photo booth and the cupcake making.
The Redskins Charitable Foundation hosted 200 elementary school children from Prince Georgeâs County and District of Colombia Public Schools to lunch, activities with players, and a special meeting with Santa.
"I think the most important way to give is your time and your efforts, to allow and show people that you care," Morris said. "We all have a form of influence and we have to do what we can to utilize that influence for the best. That's why we're here, just hope that they pay it forward."
Morris was one of many players asked about his favorite Christmas songs, his favorite foods and what a regular day is like in the NFL. In just those couple of hours, eating and interacting, Morris was happy to provide an experience that the students, many of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds, rarely got.
"I was these kids once upon a time," Morris said. "Just to come out here and do this especially around the holidays is awesome because I remember times growing up we didn't have presents under the tree."
Each group visited a different station before rotating to the next. The activities involved gluing together Popsicle sticks to make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer photo frames. Another one included wrapping players in red and white streamers to decorate each of them as Santa Claus.
The final station allowed students to create their own holiday-themed cupcake, supplied by Amphora Bakery. While waiting in line, Way kept the excitement going by squeezing some icing into willing mouths.
"Watching these kids and the excitement that they have, and then being so thrilled to see Santa, to be able to be a part of a little kid's Christmas like that," Way said, "you can' t beat that."
For Danielle Peterson, a technology teacher at Apple Grove Elementary, many children on Monday weren't just thrilled to spend time with Santa, but to see their favorite players, as well.
"I know that we have several who are definitely diehard Redskins fans and I believe that is going to make their year, not even their day, their year," she said. "I'm excited for them because they're excited."
"The Charitable Foundation does such a good job of finding these schools that really need our help," said Kiersten Allen, wife of Redskins President Bruce Allen. "Each one of the [students] didn't know what to expect, so watching them go to each station, and they're just so excited, they can't imagine that they actually get a gift at the end as well."
As they unwrapped their gifts – many of which were action figures, books and board games – students raced over to show Santa and collected a candy cane, a sweet end to a sweet day.
"Seeing the kids open up their presents…it's just a great feeling," said Jarrett, who had never had an opportunity like this as a kid. "I'm feeling that type of experience with them as well, so I'm excited, definitely."