TAMPA — There are 20 foster children in Reno, Nevada, who received armfuls of Christmas presents last week because, five years ago, Jake and Morgan McGee couldn’t decide what to give each other for their first wedding anniversary. And there are nearly 80 boys and girls at Hope Children’s Home in Tampa who can’t wait for the in-ground pool to finally be built so they can use the floating volleyball and basketball nets the McGees dropped off Tuesday as part of their annual Christmas gift giving.
“It’s kind of like our Christmas Eve tradition,” Jake McGee said.
For the sixth consecutive year, Jake and Morgan bought Christmas presents for children in foster care who could use a little feel-good at this time of year, not to mention some new pajamas, socks and shoes.
Jake McGee, the hard-throwing left-hander in the Rays bullpen, and his wife, Morgan, were married on Christmas Eve in 2009. A year later, Morgan asked Jake what he’d like for an anniversary gift. According to Morgan, the conversation went like this:
“What do you want?”
“I don’t know. What do you want?”
“I don’t know.”
“So we decided to help other people,” Morgan said.
First they thought of volunteering at a homeless shelter. Then they decided to do something for children, and quickly came up with the idea of buying presents for those in foster care.
They contacted a foster care agency and asked to “adopt” three families that Christmas. They were provided with the names and three items on each child’s Christmas list.
“The things they were asking for, it just broke our hearts,” Morgan said.
There were toys and games, sure, but there were also things kids don’t normally ask for at Christmas, such as socks.
The McGees decided to buy everything on every child’s list.
They also added more children each year.
“It gets addicting,” Morgan said. “The more you do it, the more you want to do.”
The McGees are also helping a local homeless family that is about to move into a home by purchasing appliances for the house.
In 2014, the McGees delivered more than 700 presents to 70 children. Last week, they gave at least five presents to every child on their Reno list.
The McGees help children on both sides of the country because Jake was raised in Reno and he and Morgan live in Tampa. The goal is to deliver the presents on Christmas Eve as their anniversary gift to each other, but that isn’t always possible because they are covering two time zones.
The McGees buy almost all the gifts themselves at a cost more than $3,000. Jake has a contract with Nike, and Nike donates the sneakers.
They then invite family and friends over for a massive wrapping party, stuff their van with as many packages as it can hold and head off to deliver the presents.
You think striking out the side in the ninth inning is a rush? How about watching the smiles on the faces of the children as they receive what they asked for and what they need for Christmas.
“It always feels really good,” Jake said. “You take the presents to the kids, see them open them. It’s pretty cool. All the kids are smiling. It’s pretty humbling. It’s pretty rewarding.”
Jake said the children in Reno each received tablets to go along with bicycles, winter jackets and games.
“One boy asked for a live chameleon,” Morgan said. “We got him a stuffed animal instead.”
Those at the Hope Children’s Home, in addition to items on their lists, were treated to a swimming pool theme this year. Lots of suntan lotion, beach towels and floats to go along with the basketball and volleyball nets. The McGees also bought vacuums for the facility, as well as shampoo and soap.
“They’ve been a real blessing for us,” said Mike Higgins, the executive director of Hope Children’s Home.
Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, who also donates his time and helps raise money for the home, invited the McGees to join him during a trip there two years ago. Since it opened in 1968, Hope Children’s Home has been a home for orphaned, abused and unwanted children.
The McGees, as Higgins said, “locked onto the children,” and have been involved since that first visit. They stop by for cookouts and monitor the home’s needs, buying food and cleaning supplies.
“So many times I think well-meaning people will say, ‘We’re going to get in touch, we’re going to do something special for the children,’ and they get busy and never do that,” Higgins said. “With Jake, if he says he’s going to get something for the kids or do something, he follows through on it. They’re definitely a special couple.”
On Tuesday, after leaving Hope Children’s Home with an empty van, Jake was asked if he bought Morgan a gift for their wedding anniversary.
“We haven’t gotten anything for each other,” he said. “We’ve gotten everything for everybody else.”