Stories & Insights

Holiday Shopping with Alice

Get an insider's glimpse into the Patriots Foundation's Gifts from the Gridiron event through the lens of CEO Karen Santilli.

December 15, 2022

If someone gave you $400 to spend in a large department store, how quickly could you spend it? How fast do you think a teenager could go through it? I’d say pretty quickly!

Last week I had the privilege of attending “Gifts from the Gridiron,” sponsored by the Patriots Foundation at Gillette Stadium. For nearly ten years they’ve invited children from families who’ve experienced homelessness to participate in this annual holiday shopping spree. Each child is assigned a current or former New England Patriots football player as a personal shopper. They are given $400 each and the only rule is that they must first buy themselves a coat, hat, and gloves, a gift for someone else, and then they can spend the rest however they choose.

The authentic engagement and excitement on the part of the Patriots was wonderful. The players meet the children, share a meal, and then take them shopping. This was my first time participating and it was truly exciting to witness. And I saw how large football players are in real life!

Then I saw something playing out that gave me pause. One of our residents, a 16-year-old girl I’ll call Alice, was incredibly shy and wanted to shop with her friend instead of having her own personal football player shopper. Watching the very well-intentioned, very large football player trying to navigate the store with two small teen girls was interesting. Despite his best intentions, he seemed out of his league (pun intended). I offered to take Alice shopping so he could focus on his one charge; he and Alice both gratefully agreed.

As I shopped with Alice, I watched her browse through racks of sweaters and scarves, check price tags and walk away empty-handed. She finally found a coat for herself, a coat and toy for her little brother, earrings for her mom, and a Christmas ornament for her grandmother. When we tallied up her purchases, she still had about $200 to spend.

I suggested she might like earrings or a sweater for herself. She said, “I feel bad spending so much on myself.” I reminded her that she had only picked out a jacket and asked her questions to help guide what else she might want to purchase. I saw a pair of flannel pajama pants that I recall my own teenage daughters living in during their high school years. “How about these? They look comfy,” I said. “I already have a pair at home”, she replied. On our way back to the toy department to pick out a stuffed animal for her brother, we came upon some hats that she really liked. When she couldn’t decide between the black and the brown one, I offered that she had enough money to get both. Her eyes grew wide, “Really? I can get two?” After adding slippers for herself and her brother to the cart, she seemed done. I thought that maybe she just wasn’t a shopper, but I think it was more than that.

As we walked around while she contemplated spending the remaining funds, I realized what should have been a fun Christmas shopping spree for herself was hard for her. I wondered when was the last time she went retail shopping with a seemingly unlimited budget? How often did she have to put aside something she wanted for herself so her little brother could have his needs met? Eventually I suggested that we check out and she seemed relieved. At the register the clerk told her she still had funds left on her gift card and could pick out some candy or soda for herself. She politely declined and asked if she could just apply the remaining dollars to one of the other children’s purchases.

After checking out, she ran to the wrapping station and wrapped each gift with loving care. Through my own lens of privilege, I first felt sad that Alice wasn’t spending more on herself. Then I realized that, in fact, Alice embodied the true spirit of Christmas. It was more important for her to use the “Gifts from the Gridiron” opportunity to select gifts for others than it was for her to spend on herself. I could picture her smiling face when she proudly handed those carefully selected and wrapped gifts to her mom, brother, and grandmother. We should all be so lucky to have someone like Alice in our lives.

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