Brandon Copeland made the rounds at his first holiday charity event back in 2018, hitting base with every underserved child tooling around a big box store on a shopping spree. He finally met 14-year-old Elijah, ready to start a conversation.
Examining the cart was always a good icebreaker. The Falcons linebacker, then a New York Jet, scanned the items for extravagances that a young teenager wouldn’t otherwise have.
What Copeland saw knocked him back.
There were no big ticket items meant for Elijah. The Newark, N.J. boy chooses to spend his $200 gift card on a Crockpot for his mother and hair supplies for one sister, along with glue and paint so the other can make slime.
“If you gave me 200 dollars at 14, nobody was taking the 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 work and the playoff race and all that, but you can’t forget the fact that we’re blessed to meet these guys and blessed to do these things. Very blessed.”
Copeland recounted that three years later in vivid detail from images that are still etched in his mind. That moment stuck with him. Always will.
He is not the type to cling to a singular moment of wealth. Naturally, Copeland wanted to do more.
“In 2019, I thought about what we can do to grow,” Copeland said, “and how we can raise the bar.”
Copeland is an entrepreneur, businessman, graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
His instincts tell him to replicate the positive, franchise it and grow it towards exponential growth.
That 2018 holiday issue “A December to Remember,” was a singular shop-with-a-jock event. He brought 60 kids to a New Jersey store thinking they would do community service and surprised them with a pizza party and shopping spree.
Now fast forward three years. A December to Remember involves 27 players from across the NFL and 15 teams in total – along with the NFL Foundation and corporate sponsors – conducting holiday shopping events across the country through the Beyond the Basics foundation of Copeland. In total, they will give away more than $200,000 in cash 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 reconnect with the children.
This is clear when you watch the video below.
Happy (early) to my Savior who made such moments possible. From not good enough and shot multiple times to this kind of impact!And…as always, we’re still warming up! Thanks to EVERY SINGLE PERSON who took the time to make this happen! pic.twitter.com/LwvM9U1LLA
Copeland is not the type to just write a check, smile for the 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 nationwide series of events, working with their foundation’s board to provide the infrastructure needed to make the events happen easy satellite.
Copeland is on his sixth team in nine seasons and jokes that the benefit “of getting fired so much,” is that he has made friends around the league. A flurry of texts came out when they tried to expand these events, and even a likeable man like Copeland was surprised by the positive response from players who wanted to host these events without knowledge of how to do it.
“You need to find players who care and want to participate, and join organizations,” Copeland said. “At that point, you’re connecting the dots. My wife and I 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 this 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 really need. You want people to remember the reason why they do it. They do it for the publicity. They they genuinely want to help. That’s why guys keep coming back year after year.”
Each player has their own charity of choice. Copeland’s personal events have helped those involved with Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless children and young adults get back on their feet.
“What I personally about, sometimes blame, is the fact that time is giving back,” 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. The kids are walk through a store. , tell you about the things they’re going through. Everyone we work with is service enough and has unique experiences. They open in a relaxed environment and provide a chance for all our players to listen, give some advice and make a real impact on these children.”
These children, as well as his own, evoke the holiday spirit for an adult who works very hard during the winter. Copeland is grateful for this, for the opportunity to reach so many with a concept that started small and grew faster than he could have imagined.
“Holidays bring people together,” Copeland said. “Our players really answered the call to put smiles on faces.”