Eric Berry can appreciate all the excited looks he witnessed Friday from hundreds of children who just picked up a backpack full of fresh school supplies for the upcoming academic year.
The Chiefs' Pro Bowl safety remembers a similar feeling when he was a kid – or even now.
“I’m still the same say. I got a bag myself,” Berry said with a little laugh. “I like to get new notebooks, because I love to write. Getting new pencils or pens, I love that.”
Under a handful of tents set up in the Dick’s Sporting Goods parking lot in Independence, Berry and Chiefs (and high school) teammate Rokevious Watkins, along with Sporting Kansas City soccer player Chance Myers and Miss Kansas Charity Stowers, signed autographs while people from the Eric Berry Foundation handed out 500 backpacks on one end and food on the other.
The line snaked around the tents and halfway down the parking lot by the time Berry arrived at nearly 4 p.m.
Carol Berry, Eric’s mother, handed out sunglasses to the kids. She said her son wasn’t picky when it came to back-to-school shopping while growing up in the Atlanta suburb of Fairburn.
“He was just excited to get new clothes and supplies,” she said. “The first time we gave out backpacks was in Atlanta and we partnered with our church.
“We’ve been through that, and it’s good to pass that on. He knows what outfitting a kid on a limited budget is like.”
Berry’s foundation distributed backpacks last year, as well, in Independence. Emily McNeill, a project manager with the foundation for four years, said they handed out 300 backpacks in Atlanta earlier this summer, in addition to the five football camps Berry conducted.
“We just pumped out backpacks this year,” she said. “This is definitely his biggest event; we had people lined up here at noon.”
Keegan Larch, a 5-year-old about to attend kindergarten in the Blue Springs School District, was part of a group at the front of the line, with siblings Tanner Beam and Mackenzie Ward and cousins Kameryn and Ryann Bush. Even having arrived well before noon, Larch still bounced around at 3 p.m., wanting to pantomime a baseball pitcher and hitter, and politely asked when the players were coming.
“He’s excited about school. He loves baseball and football,” said Larch’s mother, Stacey Beam. “My mom told me they were doing this thing here. He wanted to come and see all the players.”
Berry started his foundation in 2010 after the Chiefs drafted him fifth overall out of the University of Tennessee, but it’s something he’s thought about doing even years before he signed a large multimillion-dollar rookie contract.
“Since I was 13 or 14,” he said. “It was carefully planned out. It’s not something that I came up with out of the blue. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of.
“I wanted to help others to (allow them to) help others. Not just simply to help others, but to make it exponential.”
“It’s just a part of him,” McNeill said of the Eric Berry Foundation and its events, “looking at giving back to any kid that needs it.”