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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Richard Sherman’s childhood home was a local hub for the holidays.

“Sometimes we would have friends over and teammates, and they’d stay for a week, week and a half. And people would literally spend Christmas at our house and not at their house at times,” Sherman said.

Those holidays spent growing up in Compton in the heart of Los Angeles County set the foundation for Sherman’s giving spirit that has remained an important part of his life away from football. The San Francisco 49ers’ Pro Bowl cornerback has prioritized Christmastime to reach out to those in need since he entered the NFL. But it began on a modest scale.

“We started with one,” said Ashley Moss, Sherman’s wife, recounting families Sherman helped earlier in his career as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. “Then we had six.”

This week, that number of families grew to 174. The family bought roughly $100,000 worth of gifts for families in need that were distributed at San Jose’s Redemption Church on Monday.

“It’s always been a time where it’s about family and community for me, and not just immediate blood family, just everybody, bringing people together,” Sherman said. “So I understand how much joy and how much happiness it can bring people. I just want to spread that.”

Filling a need
Sherman’s Blanket Coverage Foundation partnered with Redemption Church to identify families that needed help this Christmas. The church is located near the Alviso neighborhood, just north of Levi’s Stadium on the other side of Highway 237, where the sprawl of tech companies and apartment complexes has not reached.

Alviso is one of the few remaining low-income communities in the region. Developers have avoided Alviso because it is 13 feet below sea level, the lowest point in the Bay Area, while one of the largest buildings is a waste plant where garbage and pollution contaminate the surroundings.

On Monday, a small parking area behind the church was lined with 174 individually marked bags of gifts for mostly Alviso families in need, who were identified by the church through reaching out to local community centers, libraries and schools.

Families were given forms to fill out to say what they wanted most this Christmas. Moss spearheaded the operation with Sherman’s help, and Blanket Coverage came through and delivered items at an event hosted by the church Monday.

The focus of the gifts was utility. Families were given gift cards for grocery and furniture stores, so they could purchase mattresses and bedroom sets rather than sleeping on floors, and dining room tables for family meals.

“I think people take pride in their homes and sometimes circumstances don’t allow you to have it the way you want,” Sherman said. “And we thought we could help give people a little more freedom in terms of how they dress up their house, at least give them a nice bed, some clothes, some pots and pans.”

Children were given bicycles and school supplies. Expecting mothers were gifted car seats. Many of the recipients were Spanish speakers who thanked Sherman with hugs and smiles while asking for pictures.

One man was brought to tears because he was given a fruit picker, which he was not expecting because of its $50 price tag at a local hardware store.

“It was the one thing that the man of this family wanted that he just couldn’t afford,” said Jazzlyn Zepeda, who is with the church who helped organize the event with Moss and Sherman. “And Ashley ended up getting the fruit picker for him, and he showed up and did not expect to get it at all. He showed up and saw it, and he literally started crying.”

Said Moss: “If somebody’s asking for that, they must really want it and really need it. And then out here, it could be an opportunity for a job or a business, so we try to help in those ways.”

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The importance of utility has been an ethos of Sherman’s foundation since its inception in 2013. Its initial focus was to help students in low-income areas with school supplies necessary for success. The initial operating budget started at $50,000, and it has since raised $1.5 million that has helped some 75,000 students.

Since August, Blanket Coverage has provided low-income schools and roughly 2,500 students with school supplies and backpacks. Additionally, Sherman recently donated $32,733, Moss said, to relieve lunch debt for children in Tacoma, Washington, and South Bay school districts.

Sherman was recently named the 49ers’ nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, one of the most prestigious honors in the NFL, given to players for their excellence on the field and in the community.

At least 12 of Sherman’s teammates showed up to Monday’s event to take pictures with families and help load bags of gifts into their cars, including defensive backs Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams, Jimmie Ward, Emmanuel Moseley, Marcell Harris, Antone Exum Jr. and Dontae Johnson, and receivers Deebo Samuel and Jordan Matthews.

It was the players’ off day ahead of the biggest game of the year this Sunday on the road against the Seattle Seahawks, which will determine the winner of the NFC West and give San Francisco a No. 1 seed with a victory.

One player said he had never been to an event put on by a teammate at that scale, illustrating the effect Sherman has had on the team’s younger roster.

“I think everybody wants to help. I think everybody has a giving spirit and really wants to give back. They don’t know how,” Sherman said. “And I tell them, it doesn’t have to be a huge event like this.”

It made Sherman remember when he first began working with a community center in Seattle before he was known as one of the best cornerbacks of his generation.

“They were talking about these families and explaining the stories to me, and I was like, ‘How can I help? I don’t want these families to just be starving.’ They were like, ‘Yeah, they haven’t slept in a bed in years,” Sherman said. “So I went and bought a bunch of stuff for families and went and packed Ashley’s car and we took them to their address and they were unbelievably grateful. They were crying, their mom was going crazy, because they didn’t have anything on their Christmas tree.”

Though his Christmas tree has always had gifts, Sherman still remembers those that have nothing.

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