Former NFL champ, Long Beach officials donate $100 grocery gift cards to 100 local families


Karla Enriquez | Signal Tribune

Lois Leonard, a Compton resident, hugs former NFL champion and Long Beach native Willie McGinest at Albertsons on Saturday, Dec. 28, during a community giveaway. McGinest, a Long Beach Poly graduate and 3-time Super Bowl champion, has hosted this annual day of giving to help families during the holidays.

When Jaqueline Vasquez got in line at the Albertsons on Willow Street for her $100 gift card with four of her six children, she was thankful.

“I’m happy, it will help out for New Year’s Day,” she said. A coordinator for the place she lives in enrolled Vasquez for the gift card for the holidays hoping it would help.

Like Vasquez, 100 local families lined up on Dec. 29 outside of the grocery store for the annual event put on by former NFL champion Willie McGinest, Jr. through his Foundation 55, Inc. in partnership with Vice Mayor Dee Andrews and Councilmember Al Austin.

McGinest, a Long Beach Poly graduate and 3-time Super Bowl champion, has hosted this annual day of giving to help families during the holidays.

“This event is something we’ve done for several years during the holidays,” Austin said. “The champ likes to give back to the community, and he also likes to partner with my office and the vice mayor’s office. We are responsible in a lot of ways, not just for financial support, but also getting the families here, reaching out to the families in our districts to bring some cheer for the holidays.”

According to Austin, the families are selected by community organizations as well as reaching out to subsidized housing facilities throughout the district.

“It’s always great to serve my community,” he said. “Long Beach has done a lot for me and my family. I think this exemplifies the best of community spirit.”

As McGinest arrived, the families were led inside to a sign-in kiosk where a gift card was given to them and were free to pick their groceries.

Among them was Teresa Barnes, whose friend surprised her by enrolling her.

“I feel grateful and it’s a blessing that someone cares for you. God answered my prayer,” Barnes said.

McGinest, who was on standby to greet families said, “I don’t do it for the publicity, we do it to give back and show appreciation to the people in the community, the people of need that may need a little boost or a little help.”

The help didn’t stop there, players from the Long Beach Patriots youth football team, which is chaired by McGinest, were there to help the families carry their groceries back to their cars.

Albertsons also provided cashiers specifically for the families to help facilitate check out.

For McGinest, all of this boils down to caring about his community.

“I’m proud of where I’m from and I think it’s just something that is an obligation you should have,” he said. “If you make it out of here, you should be able to come back and give back to the city and people who helped you along the way.”