EAGAN, Minn. – Harrison Phillips draws on a quote that inspires him while giving back to others.
"When a flower isn't growing, you don't change the flower," Phillips said, "you change the environment."
Phillips and 10 other Vikings players helped bring that motto to life last Tuesday. The Vikings and Tradehome Shoes teamed up to distribute nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes, socks and backpacks to kick off the school year for young people in the Metro area.
"Anytime that we can get back in the community, it's incredible, especially here in the Twin Cities," Phillips said. "This event is really special. I work with some individuals in the foster care system back with our organization, Harrison's Playmakers. So to hear that there's going to be [so many] people here getting fitted for some new pairs of shoes for school and knowing that, for a percentage of them, this might be the first pair of new shoes they ever have, [is wonderful]."
The Vikings defensive tackle, who later that same day visited the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital, surprised young people and their families for the second consecutive year by fitting kids for shoes, signing autographs and taking photographs at Twin Cities Orthopedic Stadium.
Vikings DT Harrison Phillips visited the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
Tables stacked with shoe boxes and socks lined the field, and young people could run around in their new kicks to football-themed games set up around the stadium. Music by Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift filled the evening as families took in the second annual back-to-school drive.
"In some of these situations, even just having a fresh new backpack, a brand-new pair of shoes, some of these things that you might not think correlate, or have an association with success in education," Phillips said. "They really do, and so to put smiles on kids' faces, let them know that you're important, you're cared for, you're loved, it's super important, and we want to make any impact that we can positively."
Tradehome Vice President of Store Personnel Mark Jacobson was on location to watch Vikings players Brian Asamoah II, Lewis Cine, Marcus Davenport, D.J. Wonnum, Greg Joseph, Jordan Addison, Theo Jackson, Josh Metellus, Josh Oliver and Pat Jones II bring Jacobson's daughter Kaia's charitable vision to life.
Kaia created the Trade-at-Home-Give-at-Home initiative three years ago after noticing some of her fourth-grade classmates at Ellsworth Elementary School were wearing worn-out sneakers. With the help of her dad and fourth-grade teacher, she started a bake sale fundraiser. The trio raised enough money to buy 100 pairs of shoes for local Ellsworth, Wisconsin, children.
Minnesota Vikings hosted 1,000 adopted youth at TCOPC where they received a new backpack and pair of shoes courtesy of Tradehome Shoes.
"It's pretty hard to imagine when you think about it. What starts off as a small idea and how it can blossom into something," Jacobson said. "How everybody's gotten behind it, and how they've all gotten inspired to give back in the local communities. It's just been amazing."
This year, Jacobson said they will be able to give back more than 8,000 pairs of shoes and 200,000 pairs of socks.
"I never imagined it to get to this magnitude. It is so great to see how much it's expanded and how many kids we can help with this," Kaia Jacobson said. "It makes me feel so amazing. It's just so great that all of these kids get this wonderful experience."
Asamoah didn't think twice about volunteering his time to join his teammates and Tradehome.
The linebacker remembers growing up and noticing some of his grade-school friends who didn't have the means for quality shoes. He recalls promising himself that if he ever had an opportunity to help improve a kid's back-to-school experience, he would.
"A lot of people don't get this opportunity. Not only just to wear shoes, which is a basic necessity," Asamoah said, "but just give them an opportunity to also talk about it in class with their friends and just appreciate life and what they have on."
As kids filled TCO Stadium, there were smiles everywhere. Ensuring the children were fitted correctly for their new shoes was important for Asamoah, but he enjoyed the conversations he had just as much.
Each Vikings player took pride in being present with any child who approached him and stared up in bewilderment. That's when Asamoah would kneel to speak eye-to-eye with a kid in awe and in brand-new shoes.
"I [tell them] always just take advantage of every opportunity that you get," Asamoah said. "If you continuously take care of the one that is thrown at you every single moment, then you'll look forward and [live] happily."
K.J. Osborn hosts 2nd annual backpack drive
Vikings receiver K.J. Osborn also helped youngsters gear up for the start of a new school year.
Osborn on Friday helped outfit more than 100 students at the Jerry Gamble Boys & Girls Club with new backpacks and school supplies.
"It was so great. The kids were really happy, the staff," he said. "I was able to talk to the kids and really give back to them. They gave me a tour of that Boys & Girls Clubs location, which was cool. I think the whole event went really well."
Osborn beamed as he watched students from elementary through high school select different-colored bags and excitedly compare its contents with their friends.
"I think this is really important because it just helps them be that much more prepared for class, for homework," he said. "I wanted to make sure we did this event for them right around when school started."
Vikings WR K.J. Osborn helped outfit more than 100 students at the Jerry Gamble Boys & Girls Club with new backpacks and school supplies.
A former Boys & Girls Clubs member himself, Osborn understands firsthand the organization's impact and is grateful for the opportunity to support.
"I just want to show the kids that I'm there for them," he said. "I know they see us on TV, but I'm a normal person just like them. That's why I wanted to shake hands, smile with them, laugh with them, play games. Just to show them I'm no different than them.
"They had a big wall with what the kids want to be when they grow up, and I want to show them they can achieve those things," Osborn added.