There are a few differences between Santa Claus and Santa Cam.
Claus has a few extra pounds around his waist; Cam, not so much.
Claus has eight reindeer (nine, if you count Rudolph) pulling his red sleigh. Cam has a dozen or so elves packed into six Chevrolet trucks (seven, if you count the red Tahoe he rode in).
The joy they bring? That’s about the same.
From eager first- and second-graders to humbled homeless shelter residents, Cam Newton’s fifth annual Surprise Sleigh sought out those in need and proved to them why a “happy holiday” isn’t reserved for any socioeconomic group.
“One thing about it, it’s still Charlotte,” Newton said. “So whatever Charlotte embodies, I’m all for it.”
The Carolina Panthers’ quarterback, partnered with his foundation, Conn’s Home Plus and Academy Sports, made five stops Tuesday throughout Charlotte, distributing $100,000 worth of cash donations and gift cards, along with gifts specific to each location.
Shamrock Gardens Elementary School’s first and second graders — 180 of them — received bikes, helmets and bike locks. Greeleyville (S.C.) Elementary students received backpacks and beanies. Temporary residents at the Urban Ministry Center received warm clothing, and kids at the Bethlehem Center received new laptops for their after-school program.
Newton surprised the volunteers at the Camino Community Center with a $15,000 cash donation and a $5,000 Conn’s gift card — and a quick Zumba dance.
The five stops marked the most in the event’s five-year history. It follows a month-long stretch during which Newton’s foundation hosted its largest Thanksgiving Jam — which fed 1,200 underprivileged kids.
“It’s so many blessings going around and all I want to do is give blessings out, as well. For me, I understand I’m thrust in a lot of media light — good, bad or indifferent — from the production that happens on Sundays, but I want more people to understand that there’s a lot more that I’m worth and that I do for the community.”
Newton seemed to genuinely enjoy the surprised looks on each group’s faces as his caravan traversed the snow-kissed city’s streets.
And while the antlers on the cars and the elf ears on each volunteer were fake, Newton’s excitement wasn’t.
“So much for me is to give hope and give joy. It’s reciprocated — the same way I make people feel, they make me feel. I’m so appreciative of the Charlotte community.”