Brandon Copeland made the rounds at his first holiday charity event back in 2018, touching base with every underserved kid tooling around a big box store on a shopping spree. He eventually came across 14-year-old Elijah, ready to strike up a conversation.
Examining the cart was always a good ice breaker. The Falcons linebacker, then a New York Jet, scanned the items for extravagances a young teenager wouldn't otherwise get.
What Copeland saw knocked him back.
There were no big-ticket items earmarked for Elijah. The Newark, N.J., kid choose to spend his $200 gift card on a Crockpot for his mother and hair supplies for one sister, plus glue and dye so the other could make slime.
"If you gave me 200 dollars at 14 years old, nobody was getting stuff but me," Copeland said last week. "It just brings back the reason for the season. It's easy to get caught up in the job and the playoff race and all that, but you can't forget the fact that we're blessed to meet these people and blessed to do these things. Extremely blessed."
Copeland recounted that three years later in vivid detail from images still etched in his mind. That moment has stuck with him. It always will.
He isn't the type to cling to a singular moment of good. By nature, Copeland wanted to do more.
"In 2019, I thought about what we could do to grow," Copeland said, "and how we could level up."
Copeland's an entrepreneur, a businessman, a freaking graduate from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
His instincts tell him to replicate the positive, to franchise it and scale it towards exponential growth.
That 2018 "A December to Remember," holiday outing was a singular shop-with-a-jock event. He brought 60 kids to a New Jersey store thinking they were going to do community service and surprised them with a pizza party and a shopping spree.
Now fast forward three years. A December to Remember involves 27 players from across the NFL and 15 teams in total -- plus the NFL Foundation and corporate sponsors -- running holiday shopping events across the country through Copeland's Beyond the Basics foundation. In total, they'll give over $200,000 in money and gift cards to children and young adults in need this holiday season.
That includes Tuesday's local event at an Atlanta area retailer, where Copeland, Falcons fullback Keith Smith and linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee were able to help those in need have a better holiday.
After the 2020 event went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Copeland was thrilled to be able to attend this event and re-connect with kids.
That's clear watching the video below.
Copeland isn't the type to just write a check, smile for cameras at an event and then go about his normal life. He and wife Taylor Copeland have been involved in every part of turning A December to Remember into a series of happenings nationwide, working with their foundation board to provide the infrastructure required to make satellite events easy.
Copeland is on his sixth team in nine seasons and jokes that the benefit "of being fired so much," is that he has made friends around the league. A flurry of texts went out when trying to expand these events, and even a likeable guy like Copeland was surprised by the positive response from players who wanted to host these events without knowledge of how to do it.
"It takes finding players who care and want to participate, and pairing them up with organizations," Copeland said. "At that point, it's connecting the dots. My wife and I put in the work to make it happen. It can be stressful, but there aren't too many ways to mess up giving money to people in need. Let's keep that in perspective.
"Regardless of how the surprise happens, you're going to put smiles on people's faces. They're going to be able to get things they truly need. You want people to remember the reason for why their doing it. They're not doing this for publicity. They just genuinely want to help. That's why guys continue to come back year after year."
Every player has their own charity of choice. Copeland's personal events have assisted those involved with the Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless children and young adults get back on their feet.
"What I'm personally about, sometimes to a fault, is the fact that time is the giveback," Copeland said. "It would be easy to just write a check. What we're really trying to do here is make an impact. The best part is getting to know the kids and talking to them about character traits and goals. Kids are walking through a store, telling you about the things they're going through. Everyone we work with is underserved and they have unique experiences. They open up in a relaxed environment and it's provides a chance for all our players to listen, to give some advice and make a real impact on these kids."
These kids, plus his own, evoke the holiday spirit to an adult who works extremely hard through the winter. Copeland is thankful for that, for the opportunity to reach so many with a concept that started small and has grown faster than he could've imagined.
"The holidays bring people together," Copeland said. "Our players have really answered the call to put smiles on faces."