TAMPA - Terry Dale, her daughter Tara McKenzie, and McKenzie's two kids, Samuel, 13, and Cayden, 5, started this holiday season facing abandonment, foreclosure, disability and complex surgeries.
The father of McKenzie's kids left the family in a foreclosed home with homelessness looming. Adding to their challenges, McKenzie, 36, will soon undergo surgery to have her feet amputated, while Dale, 58 and already disabled, recently endured a surgery of her own.
Added stress came when they worried about how to provide Christmas gifts for Samuel and Cayden.
On Tuesday, Bucs defensive end Gerald McCoy turned their season of despair into a season of joy- at least for a night.
Shock and gratitude overwhelmed Dale and McKenzie as McCoy treated them and 40 other single-parent families to a surprise festive meal and a mini Christmas tree full of gifts at his sixth annual McCoy Family Christmas.
McCoy's kind gesture at the Bucs' AdventHealth Training Center brought Dale to tears as she watched her grandchildren rip open their gifts, which included two bikes, helmets, a Jurassic Park calendar, Star Wars items, and an Olay gift set.
"We were struggling really bad and didn't know what we were going to do," Dale said. "But this is a huge distraction.
"This is a gift from God."
The Bucs sought families from Metropolitan Ministries, Project LINK, Boys & Girls Club of Tampa Bay and other nonprofits. Every child received a new bike in addition to other gifts from their personal wish lists, including toys, Bucs gear, lava lamps, bookbags, personal care gift sets, footballs and much more.
Minutes after McCoy invited his guests to open their gifts, the kids rode their bikes around the indoor practice facility while playing catch with their new footballs. The team typically plays hip-hop songs during their practices, but on this night classic holiday songs like Elvis Presley's Silver Bells, Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You, and the Jackson 5's Santa Claus is Coming to Town filled the air.
And that wasn't all the fun.
The families made new memories with family Christmas photos, having their faces painted, and watching popular holiday film How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
During a tour of the training facility, their jaws dropped walking through the halls of the practice facility, viewing the players' locker room, the auditorium, and portraits of some of their favorite players like wide receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson.
The event also launched McCoy's new charity, Gerald McCoy's Patricia Diana Foundation which he named to honor his late mother's longtime vision of helping single parents.
Single-parent families hit home for McCoy, who grew up witnessing his close friends and family struggle to make ends meet or go from job to job. Through his foundation, he aims to provide low-income single parents with resources to provide their children with equal opportunities that dual parent, middle and upper-income peers experience.
McCoy always has matched his fierce play on the field with a huge heart off the field. This year, he's the Bucs' nominee for the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Earning the nomination was a goal for McCoy, but he said he doesn't do it for the recognition.
"If I'm being recognized that much, that means I'm doing everything necessary to try and change as many people's lives as I can and I'm being as selfless as possible," McCoy said. "My wife and I set out six years ago to adopt a family and make sure they had a good Christmas and it has grown to what it is now.
"Missing a year is out of question. We're going to continue to do this as many times as we can because we've been blessed to bless other people."
McCoy, who helps quarterbacks up after sacks, says he ignores the criticism he's received for being "too nice."
"I don't pay it any attention because this is what matters" he said. "A lot of people live in a small bubble and that small bubble is just football. Football is what I do, it's not who I am.
"So, I'm not going to tarnish or change who I am to do what it is that I do. This is what I am, a blessing to other people and an example. It doesn't matter whether I'm a Buc or whether I do it somewhere else, it's going to continue."
Contact Monique Welch at [email protected]