MINNEAPOLIS — Adia Singh was homeless for almost three years before she became involved with The Jeremiah Program two years ago.
Singh, a single mother of a 2-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl, was one of more than dozen moms who were given a holiday surprise Tuesday afternoon by Anthony Barr.
The Vikings linebacker passed out gifts to the moms and their children on the campus of The Jeremiah Program. Children received teddy bears, toy animals and touch-screen tablets, and the mothers received spa supplies and gift cards.
“It lifts our spirits a lot. This is a special event where we weren’t expecting gifts or anything out of the ordinary … but today was just exceptional because times are hard, and we’re all figuring out Christmas stuff,” Singh said. “Going anywhere with kids right now, to any store, you see all these toys and you want to get your kids everything.
“But financially and the situation we’re in now with school and budgeting and all that, you can’t necessarily do that,” Singh added. “To be able to have something like this, with someone splurging on your kids, is pretty wonderful.”
Barr comes from a single-parent home. He was raised by his mother, Lori, who was 20 years old when Anthony was born in Indiana. The two eventually settled in Southern California.
The three-time Pro Bowler started his Raise the Barr Foundation a few years ago and has partnered with The Jeremiah Program to help provide financial assistance for higher education and childcare to single mothers.
Barr, who also bought lunch for the staff of The Jeremiah Program, said he was glad Tuesday’s holiday festivities were able to bring a smile to families in need.
“Just the fact that it hits so close to home. I was raised by a single mom and I know the struggles that she went through,” Barr said. “I didn’t at the time, but in retrospect and having spoken to her as I grew up, she made it pretty obvious that there were times that it was tougher than others, holiday season especially.
“It’s important, I feel like, for everyone to experience the holidays,” Barr added. “It’s personal, and it means a lot to me.”
Patty Healy Janssen, the Director of Development for the Jeremiah Program in Minneapolis and St. Paul, said Barr’s act of generosity is just one of many that he’s shown to the nonprofit organization in recent years.
In addition to providing scholarships to single moms to help further their education, Barr also helped renovate the program’s computer lab last December. Healy Janssen also noted that Barr stopped by on his own six weeks ago just to say hi to some kids.
“So many of our families are working and going to school, and they may not have a lot of extra for the holidays,” Healy Janssen said. “I think the fact that Anthony wanted to do something around the holidays may take some of the stress off.
“But the thing I really love is that it’s not just about the holidays,” Healy Janssen added. “He is engaged year-round … and it’s really something he’s committed to.”
The Jeremiah Program houses up to 39 moms and their children. There are three floors of housing in addition to an early childhood education center that helps children up to age 5 get prepared for preschool.
Barr visited three classrooms on Tuesday wearing a purple and gold Vikings Santa hat and touting a red sack of gifts. He was joined by his aunt and grandmother because his mom was in California at a football banquet for Barr’s younger brother.
“They played a big part in raising me … it took a village to raise me, and they did a good job,” Barr said of his aunt and grandmother. “They loved me with all they had and provided me with a lot of opportunities. I’m happy they can share this moment.”
Rebecca Buckman, a single mom with a 5-year-old, said she deeply appreciated Barr’s gesture around the holiday season.
“It shows that even though he is kind of a celebrity in some people’s eyes that you can still give back to a small community that is tucked away from the city,” Buckman said. “We’re kind of a hidden gem. It’s cool that he knows who we are … and it shows his heart.
“It’s a really brave thing for Anthony to come here because not a lot of people want to take time out of their day to come here and say, ‘Hey, I love you,’” Buckman added. “I think that’s really sweet of him to do.”
Barr said he saw himself in the kids who received the surprise Tuesday afternoon, and added he hoped he could brighten their holiday season a bit.
“It’s about the kids and the parents. Looking at the kids, I see myself, and I was in the same position not long ago,” Barr said. “I wish someone had come around and done something like this … it was special and unique, and I really enjoyed it.
“I think it’s important for kids to know that they can accomplish anything they want. I’m no different than they are. My mom is no different than their moms are,” Barr added. “I’ve been able to make a successful life for myself and my family so far, but it’s important for those kids to know they can do it as well. Whatever their circumstances are, they can overcome it.”