WASHINGTON, D.C. - The children and parents from the D.C. General Emergency Family Shelter walked into the ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel on Wednesday morning, greeted by toys ranging from board games to baby dolls to action figures to stuffed animals.
They also were greeted by members of the Marshall University football team, there to help those families have a happy Christmas.
Before the Thundering Herd headed to meetings and practice for their Friday Military Bowl game versus Maryland in Annapolis, Md. (2:30 p.m., ESPN), several players hung out with families from the shelter as part of the Homeless Children's Playtime Project, passing out toys and playing games as the children raced around beaming.
"Where we're from (in Miami), we have a lot of people like this, from the projects, who don't really have any toys," receiver Tommy Shuler said. "I'm fortunate to have a family and other people aren't fortunate to have a family. It's just a great feeling to go out there with the kids and put a smile on their face."
While some kids played pop-a-shot with Shuler or played a game similar to Whack-a-Mole with defensive back Corey Tindal, quarterback Rakeem Cato helped a toddler put together a toy carrier truck and grinned as the youngster placed the cars on the trailer.
The children munched on snacks and hung around the air hockey and foosball tables and the video game consoles. Then they paired up with players to survey the dozens of toys on display and pick out Nerf guns, baby dolls and strollers and remote control trucks, among other goodies, as their parents looked on.
"This is really nice," Shelter Service Administrator Jessica Thomas said. "They really enjoy any type of games and it's really nice to see the kids actually get out and shoot basketball, play pool. You know, actual kid stuff. We're definitely thankful for everything that the community does."
The football team has been collecting and distributing toys back home, too. It held a toy drive on Dec. 14 in front of the Barboursville Wal-Mart, to help collect toys for tri-state area charity Cricket's Kids.
Some of the toys from that drive made the trip to D.C. for the children Wednesday morning. Defensive tackle James Rouse was at that Dec. 14 event and was touched by how many members of the community were willing to help the team make so many children happy.
"It was amazing to how much people were giving and how much money we received from the raffle to support all these families," he said. "It was just amazing to see people do that."