By John Ingoldsby, Player Engagement Insider
The Buccaneers are making the holidays happier than ever this year with their stellar play on the field, and off the field Russell Shepard has made it a very Merry Christmas in a Tampa Bay community.
The starting wide receiver had already gotten the greatest gift of all earlier this year by becoming a first-time father, and wanted to take his blessing and brighten this season for other parents.
“After learning first-hand how important diapers are and that parents go through about 360 a month, I came up with the idea for a Diaper Drive through my Shepard Family Foundation,” said the LSU product. “So, we found 10 families who would benefit and gave out over 15,000 diapers.”
But this astounding number was not the only surprise for the single mothers asked to gather at a local school last Tuesday, since Shepard also elevated the experience by buying a gift for each of the 60 or so children who came with their moms.
“I worked with the team to get the kids toys and clothes that we could give out along with the diapers, after we had families send us their wish list and needs,” explained the Houston native. “I have been blessed and believe I must give back, since it would be selfish not to do so.”
Special words from a fourth-year special teams standout and team captain who is just as clearly a special person.
“Shep came to me and wanted to do something, so we put our heads together and then he did a great job so that this came to fruition,” said Bucs Director of Player Engagement Duke Preston. “To accomplish this, we involved the organization and then our Darrell Taylor hit it out of the park in working with the community to identify the families and school that would most benefit.”
Taylor, the Bucs Manager of Football Development/Youth Outreach, was immediately all in.
“When Shep came to me a month ago with his vision that as a new father he was inspired to do a Diaper Drive, I went to work with my community connections to identify Mort Elementary School,” recalled Taylor. “But then he took it a step further by buying gifts, and Shep went through each wish list himself and said, ‘This is what I want and if they need more, please buy more,’” so it was a blessing on Tuesday to surprise the families and see the kids scream for joy.”
A joy no doubt shared by the parents as well, thanks to a team effort.
“As always, the whole Buc organization rallied around us, as they do with all the players, and we also partnered with Procter & Gamble, who were awesome in providing the diapers,” Preston said. “This is a cool picture of community relations working with our Player Engagement department and the players to make a positive impact here.”
Players just like Shepard, whose vision goes far beyond the four, six-foot high palettes with over 100 boxes of diapers.
“We started The Shepard Family Foundation last month by holding our first annual Turkey Giveaway and Family Fun Day, when we gave away 500 turkeys,” said the 6’1” 187-pounder. “I’m the Foundation founder and my mom Nikki back in our hometown of Houston is the CEO.”
And together they are creating an entity with a noble and inspiring mission.
“We want to allow all less fortunate children the opportunity to achieve greatness, and it is my dream to give every child that equal opportunity to believe it can happen,” Shepard said.
A dream number 89 kicked off this holiday season, but now a reality where his commitment to a cause could be a gift that keeps on giving for years to come.
John Ingoldsby is the President and Founder of IIR Sports, Inc. a sports media firm based in Boston. He has covered the NFL throughout his career that began as a newspaper reporter/editor, which includes articles in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine (NFL Player Engagement), London-based Financial Times newspaper (NFL's international strategy), the Philadelphia Daily News (annual NFC Coaches Breakfast) and the Boston Globe (Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll).