The holiday spirit was in the air Wednesday at allCanes in Coral Gables.
The 13th Annual Holiday Shopping Spree for Kids took place tonight at the retail store that centers around the Hurricanes.
The event, supported by the store, the Bryan Pata Memorial Fund and various local sponsors, invites about 30 local at-risk children to a catered meal, then gives each child a $95 gift card -- 95 was the number of former Hurricane defensive lineman Bryan Pata -- to spend for whatever they choose in the store. Pata was shot and killed in November 2006 by a yet-to-be-found assailant, and his brother Edwin comes to the event and talks to the children every year.
Each child was accompanied by a UM coach or family member.
The event is hosted by broadcaster Tony Segreto and included UM athletic director Blake James and his wife Kelly; tennis coaches Paige Yaroshuk-Tews and Mario Rincon; women's basketball coach Katie Meier; Kelly Golden, wife of the head football coach; and assistant football coach wives Lucia D'Onofrio, Kenia Coley, Shakiera Scott, Dee Kehoe and Amber Carroll.
Sebastian the Ibis was there, as well as cheerleaders and members of the Miami Sunsations.
I didn't get a chance to go this year, but talked to several people on the phone there.
"It's great,'' said allCanes general manager Harry Rothwell. "The kids light up. Every child walked out full of food and with smiles on their faces.''
"What makes it special is you actually get to see the faces of the children and understand the impact it's making in their lives,'' Segreto said. "It's an empowering moment because you can be a part of something that at that moment makes a big difference. We live in a world where people are asked to give a lot -- you give a check or canned goods. You never see the delivery or execution of the dollar or food being given."
Other comments from participants:
*It's such a cool experience for these kids to be wined and dined,'' said football coach Al Golden's wife, Kelly, who brought their son AJ, 8, and daughters Addison, 7, and Gracie, 4. I was like, 'Today is about the other kids. Stay out back and eat pizza.'''
Golden said the girls like T-shirts and the boys go for UM jerseys. "Or a lot of kids like backpacks or a miami watch.''
Kelly James, wife of UM athletic director Blake James, said she loves the event and how the children are so happy and appreciative -- and somewhat entertaining as they peruse the store for gifts.
"They're coming in and asking to buy for their mom and dad and siblings. I had one little boy tonight who wanted to buy for his dog. He got a little dog shirt and was trying to find out what size ne needed."
Said her husband, Blake James: "It's the time of year when you want to be able to reach out and help those who might not have as much as others to have a great holiday season.''
The children began their night with a catered meal from Milams' Markets, Crepemaker, Flanigan's and Big Cheese. They came from the Kendall Boys & Girls Clubs, the Police Athletic League, the Pata Memorial Fund and North Miami Boys & Girls Clubs.
"I just think it's great that we're able to give back,'' said Yaroshuk-Tews.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN