We're all familiar with the old adage "good things come in small packages," but anyone who happened to be shopping at the Framingham, Mass., Toys "R" Us on Sunday morning might think otherwise after catching a glimpse of Shaquille O'Neal. The 7'1" Boston Celtics center made his way down the aisles wearing a Santa hat and filling one shopping cart after another with donations for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign. Shaq has teamed up with Toys "R" Us to encourage donations to Toys for Tots in Toys "R" Us and Babies "R" Us stores nationwide.
Arriving fresh from a Saturday night win against the Memphis Grizzlies, O'Neal got right down to shopping, loading his carts with everything from bubblegum pink Barbie dolls to a Razor brand scooter. He said that this year he thinks the hot item for the girls might be the Justin Beiber dolls, with boys looking for remote-controlled toys.
O'Neal got involved with Toys for Tots 15 years ago, when his mother paid a mid-December visit to her local Boys and Girls Club and found "two to three hundred kids who were not getting anything for Christmas. Period," O'Neal said. "They were asking her to give their Christmas lists to Santa." When he heard this, O'Neal knew he had to do something.
The in-demand holiday items have certainly changed over the years, with kids now clamoring for PS2 consoles and iPods, but O'Neal's spirit of giving remains the same. "I have done it for 15 years, and I will continue to do it," O'Neal explained. O'Neals says that eing able to contribute to such a worthy cause in tough economic times makes him "feel good," and that he tries to lead by example.
O'Neal knows firsthand what it's like growing up in a house where money is tight. When O'Neal was seven years old, his dad told him he did not have enough money to get him something for Christmas. "He took care of the girls first; he knew I had a tough skin," O'Neal recalled. But on Christmas morning he woke up to find a Dr. J basketball, which he describes as his most memorable Christmas gift. "It was autographed," O'Neal says. "It wasn't a real autograph, but I didn't know that." At the local basketball courts, O'Neal says, "there were other kids there playing with their basketballs, but nobody else had a Dr. J ball."
While he may be a long way from those Georgia courts -- and from the days where money was an issue -- now, O'Neal has not forgotten how much a gift can mean to a kid. Toys for Tots began back in 1948, and, over the past 60 years, has helped bring smiles to the faces of over 190 million children. O'Neal's charitable shopping trip not only contributed to the cause, but also spread some early holiday cheer, as O'Neal allowed two boys dressed in Celtics attire to ride on the sides of his cart and throw in some things they would like to see given to others this season. As for O'Neal, he has his own ideas about what he might like to receive as a gift. "I collect remote control cars," he said. "I have over 200."
To find out how you can play Santa for kids in need this holiday season, visit the Toys for Tots website. If your kids have gently used toys that are ready for a new home, ParentDish suggests donating them to the Make a Wish foundation. Either way, take time this Thanksgiving to practice giving back, as a family -- we have simple tips on how to get started.