DENVER --With a room full of smiling faces and jovial chatter surrounding him, Champ Bailey stood – wearing a Santa hat, posing for pictures, signing autographs and slapping high fives – and simply couldn't stop smiling.
He had plenty good reason.
On Tuesday night, Bailey hosted a holiday party with the Denver Rescue Mission at The Crossing, the Mission's transitional living facility for homeless families. Bailey, along with teammates Wesley Woodyard, Von Miller, Tony Carter and Ben Garland spent time bringing a little holiday cheer to the families, who were served a hot traditional dinner of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and other dishes – and received holiday gift bags from the Broncos.
The night culminated with the Broncos, as well as several Broncos Cheerleaders and Miles the Mascot, decorating gingerbread men with a room full of children – and as laughter resounded, icing was smeared all over cookies and smiles illuminated the room – it was clear that the spirit of the holidays had shined through in a cause that has been dear to Bailey for years.
"It's good to see people smiling and a lot of these people in here are less fortunate than I am in life," Bailey said. "It feels good to come in here and put a smile on their face, spend some time with them. It's only a couple of hours out of my day, no big deal to come here and spend some time with them. They appreciate it and I love coming."
Bailey has hosted the holiday party for a number of years, and his involvement with the Denver Rescue Mission reaches beyond the annual event. And for the 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback, the objective of The Crossing – providing a safe community for families who are caught in the cycle of poverty and wish to achieve self-sufficiency – rings especially important.
"Every year, they've got something going on – they don't stop," Bailey said. "People's lives don't stop and these issues don't stop. These people have been great and I'm just proud to be a part of it."
The night was particularly special for the children who reside at The Crossing.
"It's huge for the kids. They look forward to this and they love getting their autographs signed and talking pictures with the players," Denver Rescue Mission Director of Public Relations Alexxa Gagnier said, noting that it's the 14th year the Broncos have put on the party with the Mission. "It's just such an important thing for them to have when they might not have had as many things in their life and had some hard times. It's a really meaningful experience."
That experience was equally impactful for the players who played a part in making the night special for the families.
"It's wonderful. I can't even put it into words – to see everybody's smiles and stuff," Miller said. "Just to come out here and spend a couple of minutes with them, it's great."
Bailey noted that the examples he watched his grandmother set when he was a child inspired his inclination to be involved in the community and in impacting people's lives.
"When I was growing up, my grandmother was a big supporter of the homeless and she would take anybody in," Bailey said. "So she kind of rubbed off on me. I grew up around her a lot and she was very giving, very charitable throughout the neighborhood. It's just something that rubbed off on all my family."
One of Bailey's favorite aspects of working with The Crossing and the Denver Rescue Mission, however, is seeing families achieve the organization's objective and become self-sufficient.
"The good thing is you see people transition out of here – and that's the good part," he said. "They start to move on and try to take care of themselves."
Ultimately, it was an evening that Gagnier said helped give a big boost to the spirits of the families staying at the community.
"It's so kind and wonderful to have the Broncos as a supporter and a partner in the things that we do, in supporting these families, making sure that they're fed, that they're loved and they receive a wonderful gift bag," Gagnier said. "It's just something that is really special for the holiday season."
Meanwhile, the image of 250-pound Miller laughing and helping squeeze tubes of icing onto the gingerbread men of the giggling children around him – all giddy with excitement – truly captured the essence of the night.
"Gingerbread-making class, Texas A&M," Miller joked as he smiled and held up his intricately decorated gingerbread man.
"It's great to get out here with these families, especially in the holiday season," he said. "It's a wonderful feeling. It's a great Christmas present for me, so I can only imagine how they feel."