MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Jefferson still remembers the butterflies.
The first time he went over the middle for a pass in the NFL? Nah, he quickly showed a smooth fearlessness.
Before making his first career start? Nope. Seven catches, 175 yards and a forever-highlight-reel 71-yard score in Week 3 last year proved this level wasn't going to be too big for him.
But that first day of school?
That's another story.
"The first day of school is always stressful," Jefferson said Tuesday. "You've got all of this anxiety, so I wanted to do my part and just share the light and do something a little special for the kids."
Jefferson showed his natural ability to make others feel special on a gorgeous evening outside the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center. The 22-year-old offered up smiles and fun interactions as he distributed free backpacks to help young people prepare for the start of the school year.
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson distributed free backpacks outside the Phyllis Wheatley Community Center ahead of the new school year for students.
There were games, inflatables, food from Market Bar-B-Que adding to the festive atmosphere.
Northside Achievement Zone, as it has been known since 2008, also was there to sign up families for community programs. Northside Achievement Zone's mission is to end generational poverty and build a culture of achievement in North Minneapolis where all low-income children of color graduate from high school ready for college or a career. The organization partners with parents and scholars to overcome racial and income gaps in housing, employment, wellness, early childhood and K-12 education.
If any of the young students encounter butterflies from going back to school, they will have a reminder of Jefferson's support in the form of his autograph on the new backpacks, as well as the photos he snapped with everyone.
One youngster re-approached Jefferson as the event was winding down to let him know, "I've got your name on my backpack."
Jefferson impressed on the field throughout his first pro season with a franchise record for receptions (88) and a Super Bowl-era record for yards (1,400) by a rookie, but he missed opportunities to leave impressions in the community because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I didn't have the chance to be around people last year, so to be able to be around people and give back to people, I want to do my part and share what I have," Jefferson said. "I just want to show the community that I'm a good person, I'm a loving person. I love giving back. This is my home now, so I might as well make it my home more and more."
Earlier in the day, Jefferson had joined Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks in welcoming youth who are being helped by People Serving People to TCO Stadium for a distribution and event hosted by the Vikings and SCHEELS.
He embraced the opportunity to lift spirits in his new home at a time when his heart is heavy because of Hurricane Ida's wrath in his native state of Louisiana.
"It's devastating, the things that are going on there, the loss of homes that is happening," Jefferson said. "It's crazy, but we're going to bounce back. I have faith in that. Me and the rest of the Louisiana guys are definitely going to give back to our communities and try to rebuild."