Long before the doors opened, the line of excited kids coiled around the corner and into the lost parking lot of the Tru Vegas Event Center at 115 Commercial Road in Princeville.
The line was full of kids hoping to get a toy as part of a holiday toy giveaway sponsored by Tarboro native Todd Gurley II and the MADE Sports Foundation.
As the queue grew outside, the volunteer elves worked feverishly to make sure there were toys for all ages – dolls for little girls and trucks for little boys and drums. to drive everyone crazy.
And while the elves worked, Santa Claus – played by Alaric Hopkins – sat in a throne-like seat, overseeing the effort.
Young people were allowed to choose only one toy – and for some it was a difficult choice. A youth saw a car transporter in a large box and grabbed it … to put it back in place when he saw a tractor-trailer loaded with construction vehicles.
Gurley, who played at Tarboro High School before a remarkable career at the University of Georgia, was a three-time NFL All-Pro and the 2015 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. He racked up 6,082 yards and 67 touchdowns in 88 games.
And just as quickly as the queue formed for first the toys, then a photo with Santa, the queue for a visit with Gurley also formed.
Autographs went on jerseys and photocopies of newspaper clippings. We even went on the back of one hand.
Despite the adulation, Gurley was gracious to everyone he came in contact with, wishing them a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” as he posed photo after photo.
When asked if he had given back, the smile on his face turned serious.
“This is what I’m supposed to do. I have been lucky, blessed – and this community and these people have been so good to me, ”he said. “That I play football again, I was lucky and lucky.”
Gurley founded the Make A Difference Every Day Foundation, or MADE, with Jameon Willis with a mission to support young people by focusing on their physical, social and educational health.
MADE believes in the unifying power of sport. The foundation is dedicated to supporting community initiatives focused on education efforts, food insecurity, vacation activities and disaster relief efforts. MADE programs aim to increase children’s sportsmanship, literacy and health by reading programs and participating in sports. The foundation aims to teach the benefits of sports, education and ultimately create lasting impact beyond the playground and the classroom.
HUNGRY, founded in 2017 by entrepreneurs Eman Pahlavani, Shy Pahlevani and Jeff Grass, also attended and provided meals during the event. HUNGRY is based in Arlington, Virginia, and Gurley is an investor.
HUNGRY ready meals which included stuffed mushrooms and a holiday turkey meal.
This is not the first time that Gurley has returned to the community to share, as he handed out backpacks and teamed up with former Tarboro Viking Tyquan Lewis to host a reading gathering and also provided new uniforms for his old high school.
“The main thing is being able to share with others,” Gurley said as a youngster approached. “My health is good… I can spend and enjoy the time with my family and I am blessed. This is what I’m supposed to do … without a doubt.