Joy of Giving event gives gifts, community support to thousands

By Katie Jones, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, December 23, 2017, 4:34 PM EST

Raymond James Stadium looked a lot more like Santa's workshop on Saturday as dozens of local churches, non-profits, and local businesses came together to give back to their community for the 8th annual "Joy of Giving" event.

This year's event was spearheaded by WWE Superstar Thaddeus Bullard, a.k.a Titus O'Neil and was bigger than ever before. Organizers said it's because more families are in need this year.

Surrounded by the sights and sounds of the holiday season, many Bay Area residents couldn't help but think of a recent disaster that almost destroyed their Christmas.

"The hurricane has affected us it's like a domino effect," resident Nicole Black said of Hurricane Irma.

Three months later, families are still trying to recover from Irma. The storm damaged homes, knocked out power and forced residents like Black to miss work.

"My job was affected, I think this is the first two weeks I've seen 80 hours," Black said.

Black was one of 10,000 residents getting gifts at the Joy of Giving event. O'Neil has made it his mission to pay it forward in honor of those who helped him.

"I got a remote control car at 12 years old," O'Neil said. "A lady said she got the gift specifically for me because I wanted you to have a nice gift. That was the only gift I got that year, I grew up poor.

"I want this community to continue to strive and I want the people within it to understand that we literally live in one of the best cities in America," he said. "So I want it to continue that way, and the only way I can do that is to actively be involved in making sure that happens."

Families said the community's generosity and support have saved their holiday.

"To tell you the truth we bought chicken quarters for Christmas because we just couldn't make it," Black said. "I'm working but by the grace of God because guess what? We've got Christmas dinner, so God is good all the way around," Black said.

Families at the Joy of Giving event were also given access to vital community resources like counseling, health care, and legal assistance.

For more information on Joy of Giving and a list of all organizations who helped make the event happen visit www.joyofgivingtampa.com