EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Justin Jefferson's favorite holiday is Christmas.
The Vikings receiver has fond memories of waking up Christmas morning, unwrapping presents under the tree and enjoying lots of family time. So when the holiday season rolls around, he's thankful to now have the ability to give back to others.
Jefferson spent time last Monday holiday shopping at SCHEELS with two young men from a local Boys & Girls Clubs location, picking out new shoes and Golden Gophers gear, among other things.
"Not everybody can experience [the holidays I did]. Not everybody has that family to do that with or have the money to have the Christmas they want," Jefferson said. "So to have families here and give them whatever they want is definitely something special to be a part of."
SCHEELS donated $1,000 to six different families from Boys & Girls Clubs and Jeremiah Program. The families had the opportunity to shop with Jefferson, Camryn Bynum, T.J. Hockenson, Adam Thielen, Harrison Phillips, Greg Joseph and Shari Donatell, wife of Vikings Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell.
Thielen shopped with Jeremiah Program graduate Bailey Eaton Bromley and her daughter, Zaviera, who is in kindergarten. Zaviera picked out a new baby doll; a giant, squishy, stress ball (which topped her list); and new athletic clothes in bright colors.
"She kept talking about Christmas and how this is the best day she's had," Thielen said of Zaviera. "It's fun to be a part of it, to actually be here and hanging out with her and seeing all the things she's excited about.
"It hit home because I can see my own kids in that situation, and seeing how excited she is about Christmas and these new toys, it was really cool," added the father of three.
Asked what it was like to shop with Adam Thielen, Zaviera said she especially appreciated his ability to reach toys on tall shelves.
View photos of Vikings players shop with families in the Twin Cities at Scheels during the Holiday season.
Patty Healy Janssen, Executive Director of Jeremiah Program Minneapolis, and Eaton Bromley each expressed gratitude that the Vikings have maintained the strong relationship started by former Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
"When Anthony wasn't with the Vikings anymore, I was kind of worried, thinking, 'What will Jeremiah do?' But it's really great that Adam has stepped up and taken some of those roles on," Eaton Bromley said. "I think it's really cool. But we really miss Anthony, too."
"Zaviera is having a lot of fun," she continued. "She said it once already that this is her best day ever."
Added Healy Janssen: "It was through Anthony that I got involved with the Vikings, but what I've come to see is the amazing commitment the Vikings have to really serving this community. It's really been an honor and a privilege to continue working with the organization."
Phillips enjoyed shopping with a family just a few days before hosting his own event at SCHEELS for his Harrison Playmakers Foundation. The Vikings defensive tackle hosted 100 young people for a holiday party and shopping visit, to which SCHEELS gifted a $150 gift card to each guest.
Also on Monday, SCHEELS and the Vikings teamed up with KFAN Radio to host a Toys for Tots drive. KFAN broadcast live from the store all day and featured in-person Vikings guests. The community effort resulted in 16 pallets of toys being donated by fans and listeners.
"It's like having a dream come true," said Austin Link, SCHEELS Marketing and Events Lead. "A live KFAN broadcast with the Vikings players shopping, all during holiday time at SCHEELS. … It doesn't get much better than that.
"It's by far my favorite event of the year, and I can't thank all parties involved enough for bringing this event to life," Link added.
View photos of the Ham family hosting their "adopted" local Boys & Girls Clubs family at TCO Performance Center ahead of the Holidays.
Ham family 'adopts' Boys & Girls Clubs family for holidays
Minnesota native C.J. Ham spent countless hours of his youth at the Duluth Boys & Girls Club.
The organization will always be one close to C.J.'s heart, and he and his wife Stephanie consistently give back. For the fifth consecutive year, the Hams "adopted" a local Boys & Girls Clubs family to bless with a memorable Christmas.
C.J. and Steph, along with their children Skylar, Stella and Trip, hosted a single mother and her six children, ages 6 to 23, at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center Wednesday.
"It was fun. To be with them just kind of reminded me of my family, too, because they were cracking jokes at each other," C.J. said. "I think the broad age range made it very unique, to be able to connect with them on a more mature level but also to be able to have my kids connect with their little one."
"That's what it's all about. Doing things for others. Doing something bigger than yourself. That's something I want to show my kids, is that we can make people with the actions that we do," C.J. added. "I just want to show my kids that they can make a difference."
Stephanie explained that Skylar and Stella assisted in choosing 12 gifts – with the help of a wish list – for each family member. They also helped Stephanie wrap – and add bows to – every gift.
"Every year is a new story. You just see how much this means to the parents, the kiddos," Stephanie said. "It's special to give back to the kids but be a resource for the moms, as well. Take a little stress off. I know how stressful it can be around the holidays."
Mark Graves serves as Area Director for South Minneapolis Club locations and accompanies the selected families each year to spend an evening with the Hams.
Graves explained that families are nominated by staff and then narrowed down to the best fit.
"This is a single mom, strong mom, working mother. All of the kids are doing great in school," Graves said. "One of the nicest families that you're going to come across. True love for one another.
"I always tell people, 'Boys & Girls Clubs is a family within itself,' and C.J. has never left the family," Graves added. "To me, that's extra special because I'm an alum who great up in the Boys & Girls Clubs, and I like to say that I never left the family. It's a special feeling. Once you become part of this family, it's hard to leave it."
Vikings CB Patrick Peterson hosts private shopping event
Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson recently hosted his annual "Shop with a Jock" event for local youth.
Peterson started the tradition in 2015 in Arizona, and looks forward to walking the aisles every year.
"The smiles and just hearing the stories from the kids – they never really thought they'd have that opportunity to go get something personal off his Christmas list," Peterson said. "Some of these kids are in less-fortunate spots … so the holiday season is the best time of the year for me because I love seeing the smiles and being able to provide for others."
Peterson is a father of two girls, Paityn and Parker, which makes the effort even more impactful, and he's intentional about making it a family event.
"Being in the position and the platform that we're on, we want to be able to lend a helping hand however we can," he said.