As a member of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, LaRon Byrd is certainly a busy man these days as he and his teammates try to push for a strong finish to the regular season. But a busy schedule hasn’t made Byrd forget where he came from – nor his desire to help others.
The Hahnville alumnus will be returning home for Christmas and will channel his inner Santa in the process. He plans to deliver toys in person to a number of single parent homes in his community, his way of spreading a little Christmas cheer to those in need.
“I’ve been very blessed in my life,” Byrd said. “The way I look at it, ‘if I have, why not share?’”
Byrd, who has sponsored a toy drive at Hahnville each year since 2012, said he didn’t want to rest upon his laurels with the project and felt inspired to make it even better and more impactful. This year, he reached out to the community and asked for recommendations of single parents who might need some assistance this Christmas. Byrd said that more than 20 parish families have been selected.
“This year we wanted to find people who might know someone personally that needed assistance for the holidays, and I’m really happy we did that,” Byrd said. “We received a lot of messages. I’m really looking forward to Christmas to give out these gifts.”
Byrd has a special place in his heart for the plight of single parents. His mother raised him along with his five siblings, and he notes he grew up in a community with a number of children who were less fortunate.
“I was a blessed kid growing up,” Byrd said. “But a lot of kids in my community didn’t have the same fortune. God put me in the position to be able to help kids, help families, and I want to do just that.”
Because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year, the NFL has opted to move that weekend’s slate of games from Sunday to Saturday.
Once Carolina is finished playing, Byrd plans to fly in on Christmas Day to deliver the toys before flying back to his team in North Carolina that night.
Delivering the gifts personally is something Byrd is greatly looking forward to.
“I feel like it’s better for them to see my face,” Byrd said. “I felt a little separated from the process before when they were just coming to pick up the toys. This should be more meaningful.”
He added that delivering the gifts to the home might help each family just a little bit more, as not everyone has the means or the opportunity to travel out to a toy drive. Involving the community in the selection process was also for the project’s betterment, Byrd said.
“Seeing so many responses in my inbox and how much people really care about one another and want to help, it was tremendous,” Byrd said. “They could have been selfish and nominated themselves, but they chose to tell about others who needed it. You saw a lot of passion and stories shared … it makes you appreciate what you have and want to help even more.”
After a standout career at Hahnville, Byrd played collegiate ball at the University of Miami, where the 6-foot 4-inch tall, 225-pound wide receiver finished with 106 career receptions for 1,254 yards and seven touchdowns.
He impressed enough to land a contract with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012 and has played for several teams since through the course of his five-year career.
Byrd has battled injuries throughout his run in the league, as he’s looked for a long-term landing spot.
But he said he wouldn’t trade his experiences at all and is grateful for the opportunity he has today at the highest level of gridiron competition.
“It’s been a bumpy ride, overcoming injury,” Byrd said. “But at the end of the day, how can I complain? As a kid growing up, I always said I’d be in the NFL, be in the video game, and those dreams all came true. I’m going on my sixth year in the NFL and I’m truly blessed.”