MINNEAPOLIS — The young girl's eyes gave away her masked smile as she carefully selected a brand-new, lavender-colored coat in her size.
Eric Kendricks, who stood behind the table of puffy, brightly colored jackets, greeted the girl and her brother, who chose a red one. Initial shyness soon gave way to more-excited chatter, and the siblings posed for a socially distanced photo with the Vikings linebacker before waving good-bye.
Cityview Community School was backdropped by clear blue skies and a pleasant breeze warmer than most Minnesota October days.
Kendricks is quite aware that winter is just around the corner, though, which is why he partnered with UnitedHealthcare to host the "drive-through" coat drive for the Minneapolis school's students.
"Obviously under these circumstances [of 2020] and the weather changing, kids need coats, so I thought it was important for me to be here," Kendricks told Vikings.com.
The event looked much different than previous Community Tuesdays in which Kendricks has participated. Precautions against the spread of COVID-19 meant masks were worn by everyone in attendance, and Kendricks avoided any physical contact – or close proximity – with others.
View photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks who partnered with UnitedHealthcare to host a "drive-through" coat drive for local students.
But the additional safety measures didn't detract from Kendricks' messaging and motivation.
Having shown a deep commitment to the Twin Cities community since being drafted by Minnesota in 2015, Kendricks has emphasized even more his desire to make a difference since the death of
George Floyd on Memorial Day.
"[It was important] to show my face, show my support," he said. "Everything's been kind of scattered around this year, but if we could make this thing happen, then I wanted to do it.
"I think in this community, the Vikings have had an impact and are trying to make change," Kendricks later added. "This is just one of those things where I feel like if I can [show my support], that's a good thing."
He spent more than an hour visiting with teachers, students and families as young people picked up their coats. They also received a Vikings drawstring bag and stocking hat.
"Everyone's been thanking me for showing up. It's a big thing, I think," Kendricks said. "But I think it's a big thing for me, as well. I've been thanking them right back."
Like many schools across the country, Cityview has adapted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, the school's 327 students (ages kindergarten-fifth grade) are distance-learning. A plan is in-place to begin a tutoring program and hopefully slowly transition back to some level of in-person education.
Cityview Principal Renee Montague appreciated that Kendricks' coat drive offered a safe opportunity for in-person interaction, albeit brief.
"This is a plus. We get to say hi to our parents," Montague said. "It's different when you're on a screen versus being [in-person]. We need that connection; we need that interaction."
The coats, she explained, will be a welcomed and practical gift for so many families in the community.
"We're just making sure they have everything they need to be successful. So this is big for us," Montague said. "My kids' parents do appreciate things like this. Two parents came up to me separately today and said, 'We are blessed.' And I said, 'Yes we are.' "
Montague was impressed by Kendricks' down-to-earth nature and authentic interactions with each individual who stopped by for a coat, a photo or just to say hello to an All-Pro linebacker.
"That was really nice. He didn't mind taking pictures with them … and that was a big deal for us," Montague said. "I was hoping he wouldn't turn anybody away, and he didn't. He seemed to feel connected, and I seriously appreciate that."
At his core, it's just who Kendricks is.
"I think it's just so important to continue to show people that we are humans and normal people just like them. We all have the same needs," Kendricks said. "I just [want] to show them that we're there to support them in that way.
"Obviously we can't do everything, but if we can lend our support by just being there, or giving some words, or even financially, then [that is] great," he added.