For 100 families, Christmas came in shades of green, as they came decked in midnight green caps and Kelly green jackets for a chance to meet Eagles tight end Brent Celek at Walmart in Deptford Tuesday night.
Part of the second year of Operation Elf, Celek and his Take Flight Foundation were offering a chance for families from around the region with seriously or chronically ill children to not only meet the tight end and have him sign a football for them, but also get some help for the Christmas season.
“With the economy the way that is, there are a lot of families that are in need,” Celek said. “We want to help as many as we can and try to put a smile on people’s faces, especially for the holidays.”
Lauren Boerlin wiped away tears as she watched families come through the line to meet the Eagle. Boerlin recognized more than a few faces, having been through her own loss; her son, Nathaniel, a promising percussionist with his eyes set on Julliard, died in 2007 at the age of 16 of a rare brain tumor.
Boerlin, who lives in Mickleton, said she was thankful for the family-centered approach, given what both siblings and parents go through when a child is struggling with illness.
Surviving those challenges isn’t easy, she said.
“They’re heroes, they really are,” Boerlin said.
The Take Flight Foundation and Walmart combined to donate more than $20,000 worth of food and gift cards to the families, many of whom have children in St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children or Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“We want to do anything we can to help out,” Celek said.
Tom McAloon, the regional general manager for Walmart, and a member the board of Celek’s foundation, said it’s a mutual goal of the company and Take Flight to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, especially given the potential struggles and sacrifices families go through to take care of a sick child.
“All of them have challenges in their lives, and we feel we can make a difference and put a smile on their face in a tough year,” he said.