Missouri — The St. Louis Rams players who did the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture treated residents of nearby Ferguson to some holiday cheer on Friday.
Tight end Jared Cook and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens donated $10,000 and participated in the inaugural holiday event co-sponsored by the St. Louis Urban League.
The players scoured racks of coats for kids, searching for the right sizes, and posed for photos and signed hundreds of autographs.
“We just want to give back to the community,” Britt said. “Hopefully, this is not just a one-year deal. Hopefully, we keep it going.”
Players helped purchase toys, coats, gloves, hats, non-perishable food and necessities such as shampoo and detergent. The kids and adults filed through the Urban League office in Jennings, Missouri, which is adjacent to Ferguson.
“It’s what it’s all about,” Bailey said. “A happy holiday season.”
Cook was reluctant to accept any credit.
“The things you do for people don’t need to be noticed all the time,” Cook said. “This is from the heart.”
The players couldn’t recall ever getting this chance as kids when their parents were struggling to make ends meet. They knew what it would have meant.
“It would have definitely lit up my eyes and changed my day, changed my Christmas,” Britt said. “My father is a big football fan and that’s all he’s watching when he comes home from work, and to meet a football player, it would have been so amazing.”
Givens remembered when he was a boy in Mississippi, he met Mark McGwire. The slugger told his mother to “never let me stop playing baseball.”
“Seeing the smiles on their faces, it takes you back,” Givens said. “It’s humbling.”
With a half-hour remaining in the 1 1-2-hour event, about a hundred residents were still lined up outside in temperatures in the high 30s.
“It’s a long, long line,” Cook said. “Too long.”
Carey Phillips of Jennings wore a pink “Hands Up” shirt while keeping track of her five children.
“It’s very tough, very hard,” Phillips said. “It’s great that the Rams are doing this so I can pay my bills and get some fun stuff, too.”
The area has been hit hard by protests, looting and unrest in the months since the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, who is black, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white.
“I got to take a picture with Tavon Austin,” said Markisa Dixon of nearby Dellwood. “I don’t have a favorite player, but I love the way he runs. “This is a true blessing.”
The Rams wrap up their home schedule Sunday against the New York Giants. On Saturday, Cook will be an honorary chair for a holiday party at the Edward Jones Dome for more than 3,000 children.
Running back Benny Cunningham, quarterback Austin Davis, safety T.J. McDonald and team mascot Rampage will make an appearance at the Motion for Kids event, a partnership with the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis.
The event began in 1992 to benefit area children with a parent in the state legal system, and the Rams have been involved since 2001.