EAGAN, Minn. – Josh Metellus is thankful to have benefited from back-to-school drives as a youngster.
So when the Vikings safety had an opportunity to help with one for Twin Cities students, he jumped at the chance.
Metellus last Tuesday joined teammates Camryn Bynum, C.J. Ham, Harrison Phillips and Irv Smith, Jr., at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, where the Vikings and Tradehome Shoes teamed up to surprise a group of young people.
Leah O'Connell, wife of Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, and Vikings Legends Scott Studwell and Esera Tuaolo also helped give 500 children in foster care new tennis shoes, socks and a backpack to kick off the school year.
Though Metellus didn't grow up in foster care, he saw parts of himself in the youth he helped fit shoes for.
"I was a kid in this same spot, coming to drives like this right before school and grabbing some extra stuff that my mom couldn't get," Metellus said. "It's just good to see, putting a smile on kids' faces and helping them out."
One young fan approached Bynum after receiving his shoes and asked, "Can I take a picture with you?"
"Take a picture with me? Can I take a picture with you?" He emphasized before posing with the boy, signing an autograph and spending a few minutes in conversation.
"It's more of a pleasure to me than anything that I'm able to hang out with kids and see all the fun they're having," Bynum said. "It makes my day."
Tradehome Vice President of Store Personnel Mark Jacobson was on-site and joined the volunteers in helping the young people determine their foot size and select shoes.
Jacobson explained that his daughter, Kaia, actually inspired the give-back idea two years ago as a 10-year-old. At school one day, Kaia noticed a few of her classmates wearing sneakers that had holes in them.
She wanted to help.
Kaia's idea grew from providing shoes to those individual students, to fundraising enough to donate 100 pairs of shoes, to now two years later having established the Trade-at-Home-Give-at-Home initiative in partnership with Under Armour.
This year, Tradehome is donating 7,000 pairs of shoes – starting with the 500 at TCO Performance Center.
"There's a lot of companies out there that give back nationally, but we wanted to give back locally. So we wanted to give back in towns like Aberdeen, South Dakota, and Willmar, Minnesota, and all of these little communities that have supported us for all these years," Jacobson explained. "So every single town that we have a presence in, we give back shoes to the local school.
"We started a partnership with the Minnesota Vikings, and I threw a random idea at them, and we started collaborating and were like, 'How can we make this work?' " he continued. "It's just cool to see it all come together. I think we take it for granted sometimes how much of a difference a pair of shoes can make. You don't realize how much of a self-esteem booster it can be and how much it can impact their lives."
Kaia also attended the event and took in the lively atmosphere with a smile.
"This is super cool, being able to help change people's lives for the better," she said.
View photos from the Vikings and Tradehome Shoes back-to-school drive where 500 foster children were surprised with tennis shoes, socks and backpacks.
Rosalind Robertson is a local resident who, along with her husband, has grown her family through foster care and adoption.
The Robertson family currently is fostering 12-year-old Daniel, who especially enjoyed meeting the Vikings players and chatting with each of them.
"We're expanding our family, so that's been really exciting for us. And we've been able to see a lot of really good things come out of it in our community," said Robertson. "My husband is a substitute teacher in one of the schools, and then I'm a nurse in the ER. So we see families in crisis a lot, and it's been really nice that it's a way we can help and give back to our community."
Oftentimes, children removed from a home and placed into foster care have very few belongings.
"We do have a place called The Foster Shop, and they actually will give the kids an overnight bag with some pajamas and stuff, but they never have shoes," Robertson said. "This is exciting for these kids. It's nice to have something to call your own that's not a hand-me-down.
"This is brand new. It's for them," she added. "That's really special."
The Vikings players spent an hour hanging out with the youth, signing autographs, answering questions and taking selfie after selfie.
Ham, a father of three, said it was an easy decision to take time out of a busy game week.
"It's huge. … You remember those first couple days of school, you're trying to wear all the clothes you got, wear all the new shoes you got, so it's just cool that we're able to give back and give them that experience, as well," Ham said. "This is what it's about. Coming out here, impacting the community.
"There are so many people who impacted my life," Ham added. "Specifically, I remember the Vikings coming to Duluth. I just remember those times very vividly. So being able to come out here and do that, it puts everything into perspective."