ST. PAUL – A little boy hopped off the folding chair, got a fist bump from Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen and walked away with a smile and a pair of new navy blue TOMS shoes.
Griffen last Tuesday joined 15 current teammates, four Vikings Legends, cheerleaders, Vikings staff members and Viktor the Viking at LIFE Prep School for a special giving event.
In partnership with TOMS, approximately 400 students — ages pre-K through sixth grade —were fitted by the Vikings for new shoes. The young people also received a free vision test through Helen Keller International and were fitted for a new pair of glasses if needed, and they were given T-shirts from the Minnesota Vikings Foundation.
Griffen appreciated the opportunity to get to know each child he worked with, asking them questions about their friends, favorite color or favorite class in school.
"This 1-on-1 time and getting to interact with the kids more and talk to them [is great]," he said. "They can see that we're just human like them. There's been a lot of joy today."
"Being able to give back and show the kids that we care is huge," added Griffen, a father of three boys.
LIFE Prep Principal Kara Kerr said the event will make a major impact on families at the school who need extra support.
"Our mission is what LIFE stands for – Learning In a Family Environment – and that's what we do here," Kerr said. "This lets our students know and feel that we are part of a community. It lines up perfectly with what we do."
Vikings, TOMS and Helen Keller International partnered to hold a local Giving Event at LIFE Prep School in St. Paul. Vikings players and Vikings Legends fit approximately 400 students with a new pair of TOMS shoes. All students also received a free vision test through Helen Keller International and were fit for a new pair of glasses, if needed.
The event touched the heart of Vikings running back Ameer Abdullah, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and said that resources weren't always available to him.
"I shared a lot with my family; I had a lot of hand-me-downs. So, I understand sometimes the culture and the situations that kids are put in," Abdullah explained. "[This] takes a lot of load off the parents, and it makes them feel like they're more a part of the community. Reaching out to their kids and treating them like they're their own can do a lot for parenting, and those are some of the indirect effects that you see with this program today.
"[It's wonderful] getting out and being an influencer in the community, getting out and showing these kids that they do matter, that it is important that they have things that are essential for everyday living," Abdullah added.
Along with Griffen and Abdullah, the following Vikings players participated in the TOMS giveaway: Anthony Barr, Chad Beebe, Khari Blasingame, Garrett Bradbury, Dakota Dozier, Marcus Epps, C.J. Ham, Bisi Johnson, David Morgan, Brian O'Neill, Irv Smith, Jr., Shamar Stephen, Oli Udoh and Stephen Weatherly.
Former Vikings Matt Birk, Mike Harris, Ben Leber and Scott Studwell also pitched in with the shoe fitting and interacting with students.
The students were ushered through the process in groups, and after each fitting wrapped up, there was extra time for the young people to get autographs from and play with the Vikings.
Barr, who initiated relay races with some of the older students along with Griffen, later connected with a kindergarten student wearing a purple Barr jersey. The linebacker helped measure him for shoes before posing for a photo with the young fan.
"I'm out here having some fun, letting them know they're important," Barr said. "Not too long ago, I was running around [elementary school], trying to find my way, and it's good to have positive role models."
Added O'Neill: "Anytime you can get to know kids and make them feel special and important, even just for a little bit, that's cool. It's great that we're able to do that for people, and any chance we get, it's just an awesome thing."
Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards and his wife, Jami, partnered with UnitedHealthcare and DreamBuilders to provide clothing, shoes and backpacks for youth at the Children's Home Society of Minnesota.
Edwards, Vikings Equip Children's Home Society Youth for Fall in Minnesota
After spending a week preparing the Vikings defense for Minnesota's season opener, Defensive Coordinator George Edwards spent an afternoon prepping young people for the school year.
George and his wife, Jami, partnered with UnitedHealthcare on Sept. 6 to distribute new coats, Nike shoes, shirts, backpacks and other daily essentials to young people at Children's Home Society of Minnesota.
The project was made possible by a grant from UnitedHealthcare to Edwards' program with Dreambuilders.
Edwards was joined by current Vikings players Tashawn Bower, Aviante Collins, Devante Downs and Cam Smith.
"It's a lot of fun. Just seeing the smiles on the kids' faces and the players coming out and donating their time and interacting with them, it's awesome," said Edwards. "It's just an amazing event for the kids, and hopefully they'll find some things that can help them throughout the school year."
Children's Home Society of Minnesota in 2018 served more than 200 children and youth through foster care, adoption and child-specific recruitment, which works specifically to find adoptive homes for older children and sibling groups.
Alexis Oberdorfer, Executive Director for Children's Home Society of Minnesota, pointed out organic interactions that were taking place between the Vikings players and young people, and she emphasized how impactful the experience can be, particularly for older children.
"Going back to school can be anxiety-provoking for many of our kids, so if we can help build them up, if we can help celebrate them and make this special and have them go back to school in style and sporting new kicks and new jerseys and new backpacks, it's such a great thing," Oberdorfer explained. "Our kids have trauma histories and have experienced adversity, so any time that we can give them positive role models, be able to share that experience with other kids who have been in the same place, is an important thing to be able to do."
Collins was particularly animated while meeting the youth and their families, and he stayed past the event's conclusion to pose for photos. After holding a baby for a couple of minutes and helping a shy toddler feel more at ease, the Vikings tackle was asked about his affinity for working with children.
"I'm a huge family person … and I'm a very talkative person. Go in a room and it's quiet, and I can't do it," Collins responded with a laugh. "So, I'm very good at talking to people, bringing the energy. I'm a big kid myself, so I know how it is to interact with kids. I just try to take that energy into every community event that I do.
"It's kind of hard to put myself in these kids' shoes because I can't understand what they are going through, [but] I try to just be as positive as possible and try to just keep them motivated," Collins added.
George and Jami have committed to giving back wherever coaching has taken their family. In addition to the Children's Home Society, the couple has also worked with Twin Cities area homeless shelters.
"Anything that we can do to reach out and help, we're willing to do," George said.