For LaRon Byrd, his annual Christmas gift drive is not simply a chance to brighten the holidays for families in the community where he grew up by giving a gift, but also, he hopes, a means to inspire.
“I want to be a spark,” said Byrd, a Hahnville alumnus who starred as a wide receiver the University of Miami before moving onto the NFL level. “If people see what you can do for someone else, not just at Christmas time but during the year, and take after that it’s something special.”
2017 represented the sixth year Byrd has held a toy drive for gifts to be delivered to single parent homes in his community, an event that has evolved since its initial inception. This was the second year Byrd himself delivered the toys to homes, after adopting that practice last year in order to add a more personal touch to the event.
The families were selected after Byrd reached out to the community to ask for recommendations of those who could use some assistance.
It’s a wonderful feeling,” Byrd said. “Being a kid, you always envision being somebody who’s able to say, ‘I’m gonna make it out, go educate myself, come back one day and help people. It makes it special … it’s not always about the gift itself, but sacrificing time to show someone you care.
“I feel like it’s better for them to see my face. I felt a little separated from the process before when they were just coming to pick up the toys.”
Toys were delivered to 26 families this year, with any leftover toys donated to Children’s Hospital.
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.”
Byrd noted that his aim is not to garner positive attention for himself, but added that the event gaining some notoriety in recent years has helped it grow.
“It lets people know what we’re doing and potentially gets more people on board,” Byrd said.
“People in Boutte, they now maybe want to partner up and reach many more people. People started calling me about it in February. And that’s what we’ve envisioned, everyone on board to make our community that much better.”
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.
Byrd said he plans to keep the event going as long as possible.
“As long as we get positive outreach from those families and people are willing to accept the help, then I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that help is provided,” Byrd said.
“As long as we have support for it, why not keep it going for years? Maybe one day when I’m older, my daughter can take it and continue that trend for me. It’s something I look forward to doing for awhile.”