Right before December began, Charles Leno Jr. had an idea.
The Bears starting left tackle decided to count down the 25 days to Christmas with a separate charitable act every day.
For his efforts as "Leno Claus," the NFLPA awarded Leno with the Week 16 Community MVP Award.
"I don't like to look at things like awards and accomplishments as big," said Leno, "but to be honored by the NFLPA and win the Community MVP Award, it means a lot to me because that's something I strive for in this profession: giving back."
While his name is on the award, Leno credits his wife, Jennifer, and infant daughter for being the driving forces behind the initiative.
"This award is really for my family more than anything," said Leno, "my wife and my daughter. Those two are the ones who opened up my heart to give back even more, to do more for the community."
Leno got the idea when he saw the channel Freeform, formally known as ABC Family, celebrating a 25-day countdown. Leno admits Freeform is not the type of television he watched before he became a father last year.
Leno was also inspired by the Thanksgiving turkey giveaway hosted by his close friend, New Orleans Saints tackle Terron Armstead. Armstead's generosity in distributing 600 turkeys inspired Leno to do something for the next major holiday.
With only a few days notice, Leno and his wife identified and contacted 20 worthy causes in the Chicago area to which they would donate.
The activities for the last five days came from crowdsourced nominations.
The beneficiaries of these days included an Air Force veteran known to use Twitter to aid charitable causes, a family in which the mother is battling cancer and a young son is struggling with anxiety stemming from an appendix infection, a couple whose 16-month-old child suffers from a rare brain condition and a family that recently lost an infant son.
A meeting with a young mother who survived a shooting by her ex-boyfriend struck Leno on a personal level. As the woman described her ordeal, Leno felt a shared connection due to being a young parent.
"That was one that impacted me the most," said Leno. "She has a son as well. Just being on the Zoom call and talking about the experience that she's been through and the smile on her face when we told her what we were going to do for her."
The Lenos had the young mother go to her Amazon wishlist then bought her everything on it.
The following is a breakdown of the people and organizations that were helped by the Lenos:
• Day 1: Provided Leno Claus T-shirts to Little City
• Day 2: Donated $1,000 toward gifts and covering patient bills at Neonatal Follow-up Special Start Program
• Day 3: Sent grocery store gift cards to Chicago Children's Advocacy Center
• Day 4: Purchased gifts from the holiday wish list and held a Zoom call with kids from WINGS
• Day 5: Made monetary donation for holiday gifts to Kaleidoscope
• Day 6: Purchased City BBQ for the largest Ronald McDonald House in Chicago
• Day 7: Donated $1,000 toward meals for the students at Life Learning Academy
• Day 8: Donated essential items and called up Bears fans at Home of the Sparrow shelter
• Day 9: Contributed essential items to A Safe Place
• Day 10: Adopted a family with seven children in partnership with Target Area
• Day 11: Purchased toys and gift cards for the holiday shop at Housing Opportunities for Women
• Day 12: Donated T-shirts and gift cards to My Father's Business
• Day 13: Gave gift cards and held a Zoom call with kids, mentors and family members at The Bridge Youth & Family Services
• Day 14: Provided 65 drawstring bags that each had shampoo, conditioner, loofahs, soap, gloves, hats, granola bars and journals to Housing Forward
• Day 15: Purchased 35 gifts for children at Family Focus
• Day 16: Donated gift cards, headphones, hats and gloves from one of the program wish lists at Heartland Alliance
• Day 17: Donated gifts off the holiday wish list at Breakthrough
• Day 18: Contributed 240 blankets for the homeless in Chicago through Chitown Blankets
• Day 19: Donated $2,500 with a $2,500 match granted by the Chicago Bears to go toward a "she cave" at Magdalene House. The Lenos will also hold two virtual events where Charles will host a Q&A and teach football skills while Jennifer will be part of a panel of women with NFL ties to discuss managing visibility, stereotypes and finding their own identity
• Day 20: The Lenos are granting $5,000 to help OK Program create a summer retreat that will help young men learn life skills and build a great community
• Day 21: Gifted a signed jersey and $720 toward a new PlayStation for a retired Air Force veteran who helps others on Twitter through his #RandomActsOfCoolness campaign
• Day 22: Cleared out a gift wish list for a single mother who had been shot and whose boyfriend committed suicide
• Day 23: Paid a medical gift and sent a gift card for dinner to a family whose son is battling anxiety and trauma after enduring an unknown appendix infection and whose mother was diagnosed with cancer for a third time
• Day 24: Sent gift cards for much-needed date nights to a couple whose 16-month-old is battling a rare brain condition
• Day 25: Donated $720 to the Mothers' Milk Bank of Western Great Lakes in honor of a family whose infant son passed away due to postpartum hemorrhage. After pumping breast milk in the hospital for when she expected her son to come home, this was the organization to which his mother donated her milk.