Vince Wilfork in spirit of giving to kids

FOXBOROUGH — Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork stood with a red Santa hat and an ear-to-ear smile while sporting a scraggly, pepper-colored beard Tuesday at Bass Pro Shops. The Saint Nicholas look was coincidental, but it was appropriate enough.

He and nearly 40 teammates and Patriots alumni — including Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, Chandler Jones, Andre Tippett, and Joe Andruzzi — helped children from Massachusetts and Rhode Island homeless shelters in the third annual “Gifts From the Gridiron.”

Players and children were given a $400 allowance to spend on items in the store. The Patriots Charitable Foundation, the Vince Wilfork Foundation, the New England Patriots Alumni Club, and Bass Pro Shops sponsored the event. Each group donated $5,000.

“They can have me running all up over here, it doesn’t matter to me,” Wilfork said after following Amanda Perez, his 11-year-old shopping partner, across the store. “My main job is to make sure this girlie’s happy. And I think so far, so good.”

Perez’s shopping cart was filled with a hat and gloves, gifts for her father. There were also shoes and boots, but her most anticipated item was still on the shelf: a purse.

Wilfork and former teammate Gerard Warren, both Florida natives, approached Patriots owner Robert Kraft about community outreach three years ago and the event was born. It’s become a staple players anticipate each year.

McCourty joked he now knows what it’s like to have a daughter after spending the evening with 8-year-old partner Jalissa. He added that the 6-foot-2-inch, 325-pound Wilfork is like a “big teddy bear” around the kids.

“Since I’ve been here he’s always been heavy into the community,” McCourty said. “I think it’s good, it gets the guys out, the guys have fun on an off day. It brings a real Christmas spirit.”

Defensive end Andre Carter said he is thankful for the opportunity to give his time and said the event is an example of Wilfork’s leadership off the field.

A torn Achilles’ tendon (suffered against the Falcons Sept. 29) has kept Wilfork from suiting up for the Patriots, but he still patrols the sideline and has been acting like an extra coach.

Carter said Wilfork is able to anticipate opponents’ offensive line and backfield sets. Carter noted that just standing near coach Bill Belichick teaches people a lot about the game of football.

“[Wilfork’s] helped everybody from the front side to the back,” Carter said. “I told him he amazes me. This is my 13th year in the NFL and I still learn a lot from him. Whatever happens, life after football, if he decides to be a coach, he’ll be a great coach.”

Jones, who was draped in a cream-colored scarf while shopping, said Wilfork is also active in the film room.

He said his football knowledge is invaluable, particularly for younger players. And his presence has made him a “role model” for Jones.

Perez, who gave Wilfork a hug while calling him “sweet” and “very kind,” shared the feeling.

“When I first met them, I didn’t know who he was,” she said. “But like, he’s the best. I love the Patriots.”

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