The energy emanating from Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 10 could have lit the lights all on its own. More than 400 kids from all over the Bay Area were welcomed into “Niners Land” for the team’s annual Hope for the Holidays event.
“For me, personally, growing up not having a lot, I think it’s a little more special,” said 49ers Linebacker Fred Warner. “I know it’s the same way for a lot of the guys. A lot of the guys on the team didn’t have much growing up. Anytime we can give back it means a lot to us.”
The 49ers teamed up with United Airlines and other corporate sponsors to make sure the kids received a number of goodies. Shoe Palace donated new shoes for all the kids and Zenni Optical donated sunglasses.
“I’m looking forward to getting new shoes and meeting all the players,” said 8-year-old Jeremiah.
A number of local hair stylists and barbers donated their time to give free haircuts to the kids. Many of them were from Mad House Salon in Fremont, which shut down for the night so its employees could participate.
There were also toys and new bikes and helmets courtesy of 49ers Offensive Lineman Ben Garland and Wine Country Marines.
“I’m really excited to be able to give these kids some bikes,” said Garland. “It’s one of the things I loved most as a kid was riding around my bike with my brothers and sisters. I still ride my bike to work sometimes. To be able to give that to some kids who have never gotten a chance, we’re really excited to do it.”
While the gifts were awesome, many of the kids couldn’t stop talking about the food.
“We’re going to get food. I think it’s calamari and wontons,” said a hopeful 9-year-old Jaylynn from Sunnyvale.
“I saw the pizza and I just ran,” said 13-year-old Laila from San Jose.
“The hot dog,” said 11-year-old Truman from San Jose when asked what his favorite part of the day was. “Oh wait, no, not the hot dog. George Kittle signing my stuff.”
“So far, I’ve only ate, but I got to meet George Kittle who’s my favorite player,” said 11-year-old Stephanie who goes to school in Alviso.
“George Kittle was in our group for the last four events. We went back and forth; he was with us the whole time,” said Steve Williams, Assistant Director of the 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto. “The kids were taking pictures. He was hanging out. He was being real friendly and nice to all of them.”
A Kittle sighting was a highlight for many of the kids, but his teammates didn’t hold it against him.
“It’s funny, because I’m the O-lineman and not many kids know who I am, but them seeing George Kittle and my other teammates around here that they see catching touchdowns and stuff every Sunday it means the world to them,” said 49ers Tackle Mike McGlinchey. “That’s why we do what we do. That’s a really, really cool deal tonight. Seeing all these smiles is really rewarding.”
And there were a lot of smiles, both from the kids and the adults there to chaperone.
“I saw some football players,” said Catherine Masaquiel, who was chaperoning with the Boys and Girls Club of Alviso. “[The kids are] getting pampered…This is our first time and I had no idea how big this event was. I’m having fun just watching them have fun.”