On Dec. 23, FedExField was transformed into a magical holiday wonderland. This one was a little different from those found in Hallmark movies -- the white on the ground was chalk instead of snow, and as for the elves, well, many of them were as tall as pro football players. Families from far and wide around the DMV arrived on this uniquely festive scene for the first-ever Washington Football Toy Giveaway.
"I was the most excited to see my daughter pick up her present," said Luis Enrique Valencia, whose 5-year-old daughter, Solymar, chose a microphone. "She felt very happy, [and left] with a big smile."
The Washington Football Toy Giveaway, the grand finale of the team's month-long Season of Giving initiative, was organized in partnership with surrounding community groups to provide presents for local youth who would benefit most from the gifts. During the day, Washington distributed more than 10,000 toys and team gifts to thousands of these families. Some selected dolls and science kits, others picked out jerseys and board games. Every single one of these families, though, left with a present that couldn't be wrapped in paper or a placed under a tree -- the joy of a child with a gift of their own for Christmas.
That magic was at the heart of co-CEO and co-Owner Tanya Snyder's initial idea for the Toy Giveaway.
"We know the need is immense and nothing says holiday spirit like the smile of a child having a toy in their arms," Mrs. Snyder said.
The Toy Giveaway released a lot of stress for moms like Stephanie Portugal who worried about her ability to buy her children presents this year.
"I stopped working ever since I had my last baby so money is tight," Stephanie said. "Knowing that mommy can't really buy anything that they would love to have, I knew it would give them some form of joy [to get presents]."
Every family who lined up at the gates on Thursday was given a gift voucher before heading onto the field. Once on the field, kids were welcomed to peruse and choose a gift from a wide-array stacked on several long tables. The chance for the kids to pick what present they wanted – rather than just be given any toy – provided an extra level of enthusiasm for the children as well as peace of mind for many parents and caregivers.
"It's great that they actually like their presents, because they actually had something to choose from," said Marquis, a father of five children.
6-year-old Ka'mauri, who came to the Toy Giveaway with his sister and mom, picked a coding kit at the present-selection station, because "computers are awesome."
"I'm excited to learn," he said.
Meanwhile, 9-year-old Zulema, a budding artist, zeroed in on a paint kit.
"I want to paint my whole family on Christmas and hang it in my room," she said.
After selecting gifts, families were then encouraged to walk around the field and take pictures. Everett Gunter, a "born and raised" Washington fan decked out in Burgundy & Gold gear, made sure to get plenty of those on his phone. Just before exiting the stadium though, he slowed to take one final snapshot. Watching his kids and nephew running up to the tunnel ahead, laughing and throwing brand-new footballs in the air, this snapshot was a mental one, a moment to be forever filed away in his memory.
"For my family to be here, excited, it's a dream come true," Everett said. "The spirit of Christmas was here in this great stadium of ours today."