NORTH OLMSTED, Ohio (WJW)-- Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio and nine of his teammates surprised dozens of kids Monday night with a shopping spree at Dick's Sporting Goods at Great Northern Mall.
Thirty bright and good-hearted children were selected for the event by the Cleveland Recreation Department, but they had no idea what was about to happen until the players arrived.
“We come every year and the kids just love it,” said Earl Fitzpatrick, Regional Manager for the City of Cleveland Recreation Department.
The event was started by Joe Thomas soon after he was drafted in 2007 and he continued it every year until he retired. Bitonio started going to help out after he arrived in Cleveland and now has taken it over, giving each child a $200 gift card to buy shoes and whatever else they want.
“You know, they get a couple hundred bucks, they get some shoes; they get to pick out pretty much anything else they want — a lot of clothes, basketball stuff, a lot of fun stuff so it’s a pretty awesome experience,” Bitonio said. “It’s pretty rewarding for us as well because we enjoy shopping with them, hanging out with them. It’s been really awesome.”
The girls and boys were taken on the shopping spree, and paired up with a player. Each year, different children are selected from the different recreation centers across the city. For most, it was their first time seeing a Browns player in person.
The other players who shopped Monday night included Drew Stanton, Kendall Lamm, Pharoah Brown, Drew Forbes, Malcolm Pidgeon, Willie Wright, Justin McCray, Wyatt Teller and Colby Gossett.
“I loved it so much,” said La’Nette Walters. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The kids even gave the players some football tips.
“Oh yeah, we got some football advice, what we need to do, who we need to play. So it’s one of those things —always ready for advice from the kids,” said Bitonio, grinning from ear to ear.
A $5,000 check was also donated to the Cleveland Recreation Centers on behalf of the Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation.
The night was Day 2 of the Browns 10 Days of Giving drive that’s underway for the holidays. Fans are encouraged to also donate or volunteer with different charities and share it online with the #give10.