TAMPA — Cheers, music, and crowds of thousands at Raymond James Stadium usually are the hallmarks of a rousing, if generally disappointing, Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, but on Saturday it was the ninth annual Joy of Giving.
The event transformed the stadium's south parking lots into a garden of fun with bounce houses, food stations and stages with performances by local dance groups and appearances from rap star Desiigner and gospel artist Yolanda Adams.
Hosted by hometown hero Thaddeus Bullard — also known as WWE wrestler Titus O'Neal — Joy of Giving welcomed an estimated 10,000 youth and their families to the stadium where they were given thousands of gifts, thanks to dozens of generous sponsors.
It's a chance to unite the Tampa community and share the love of the holiday season with those who may not be as fortunate, Bullard said. For the first time ever, he linked the event with the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, played Thursday at Raymond James, to generate more support for the Joy of Giving.
"I want people to see the beauty in bringing people together from all walks of life," he said.
Bullard handed out commendations to special guests but also received one of this own: an induction as an honorary officer of the Tampa Police Department.
"So if I get pulled over, no more tickets," he said with a laugh.
Among the performers were the Mighty Marching Lions Community All-Star Band. The band has made an appearance at Joy of Giving each year since its founding because it's a form of service, said founder and director Antwaun Underwood.
"We're just giving back to the community, that's what the band is all about," he said.
Desiigner, best known for the 2016 hit Panda, paused between songs during his set to offer some words of inspiration to the crowd of mostly young people.
"Don't let no one tell you you can't do what you want to do," he said.
This year was the first time Alexis Bryant attended Joy of Giving, and it didn't disappoint.
From the family-friendly atmosphere to the horses of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Mounted Posse that captivated her 1-year-old daughter Aaliyah, "it was a blessing."
Samantha Axon concurred.
She and daughters Samiyah, 12, and Violet, 3, left the gift giveaway with a nice haul that included dolls and a Play-Doh set.
Christmas shopping now is complete, Axon said.
"It's very nice — the games, the food, just giving back," she said.
Contact Kenya Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org.