COLLEGE PARK – University of Maryland College Park Alumnus Shawne Merriman vowed to ensure that no family will have to go an entire winter without a coat, as he experienced with his family years ago. Merriman, a former NFL linebacker, held an annual coat drive on Nov. 7, prior to the Terps’ homecoming game at […]
COLLEGE PARK – University of Maryland College Park Alumnus Shawne Merriman vowed to ensure that no family will have to go an entire winter without a coat, as he experienced with his family years ago.
Merriman, a former NFL linebacker, held an annual coat drive on Nov. 7, prior to the Terps’ homecoming game at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium. The collection of the coats began 90 minutes prior to the start of the game and continued throughout the first quarter. Merriman partnered with the Maryland Athletics Department and was joined by University of Maryland (UMD) student-athletes to collect gently used coats, hats, scarves and other cold weather clothing.
“Me, my sister and my mom were homeless a few times because of some fires that happened. My mom wasn’t able to pay for electricity, so she lit a candle that ended up burning through a TV in my house and we lost everything,” Merriman said. “I went almost the whole winter without having a coat and I was like ‘man this is terrible and I can’t imagine someone else having to go through it.’ So after my sophomore year and I got notoriety from playing nationally, I said this would be a really good time to bring some attention to a great cause.”
Merriman grew up in Prince George’s County, in the Capitol Heights, Forestville area and attended Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro. Merriman was honored as the Associated Press Maryland Defensive Player of the Year as a senior out of Douglass.
Over the past 13 years, Merriman and his Lights On Foundation have collected more than 24,000 coats and warm weather items to benefit numerous communities in the DMV, Philadelphia and New Jersey areas. Merriman’s foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life for youth and to help the homeless. He donates time, money and other resources throughout the country by increasing opportunities for children to lead healthy and fulfilling lives by providing financial assistance to projects helping those in need.
Natasha Criss,associate director of academic support at the university, helped organize the coat drive. Criss said they got the concept from some experiences Merriman went through in the past. She said during the first year of the coat drive they figured they would only get 100 coats, but ended up collecting about 1,500 coats.
“We’ve collected close to 24,000 items in total throughout the years, of coats, scarves, hats, jackets and sweaters. We had people take their coats off their backs. The UMD staff cleans out their closets and will even drop stuff off at my office,” Criss said. “We previously partnered with Burlington Coat Factory, the Red Cross, UMD and other organizations, to take items to the victims of Hurricane Sandy that were greatly affected by the tragic event.”
Merriman even distributed coats to homeless people on the streets for a few years.
“It gets cold in the winter. The first year they started kicking homeless people off the benches and onto the ground in D.C., we literally went and started giving them coats. I will never forget their expressions and the happiness they had when they got their coats,” Merriman said.
The Lights Out Foundation and Merriman’s coat drive had partnerships with Burlington Coat Factory, Good Morning America and PETA. The foundation also partnered with Feeding America and StandUp For Kids in the past.
“I’m really thankful so many people have been apart of it for so many years. Even my former teammates and my old high school teachers come with their coats,” Merriman said. “It makes me feel good that they look forward to this.”
Merriman’s grandmother, Arnethia Buchanan, said it feels wonderful being at the coat drive.
“It’s a great joy to be here,” Buchanan said. “It’s like when you have been down and you’re coming up, you don’t forget where you came from and that makes it just awesome.
“The best part for me is when I see the people and they give the coats and some of the people will say they have been there and gone through the same thing. It makes me want to cry.”
The foundation also donates coats to the Noel Roberts’ Foundation, who has a resource organization that helps families.
“It’s really a good thing and everyone looks forward to it,” Roberts said.
Roberts presented Merriman with the NRF (Noel Roberts Foundation) 2015 Sponsor Appreciation Award at the coat drive.
Merriman’s foundation donated half a million dollars to different charities and helped keep shelters open all year round. He also donates to his high school by making sure they have new uniforms and new equipment every year.
“(Douglass) won the state championship last year and I want them to continue to be the best,” Merriman said. “I’m trying to get them brand new turf, a field and new stadium seating. When I came out of Douglass, I went to UMD and tore it up. Now every year they have someone going to a Division I college and scouts are constantly going there to seek new talent.”
Merriman had a renowned career at UMD, where he became a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection after his junior season. Originally selected in the first round (12th overall) in the 2005 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, Merriman was a three-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection with San Diego prior to joining the Buffalo Bills toward the end of the 2010 season.
“He’s just one of those people who wants what he wants and he’s going to go hard for it because he’s committed to it. It holds a special place in his heart,” Criss said.