After signing a four-year, $4.11 million contract in July to play linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, Thomasville native Akeem Davis-Gaither is able to purchase as many coats as he wants, heck, pretty much anything he wants.
But the former Thomasville High School Bulldog football player didn't always have this kind of financial freedom. He remembers a time as a child in the Chair City when his then young parents did not have the ability to purchase winter coats and other needed items for him or his siblings, said Amanda Miller, Davis-Gaither's long-time girlfriend with whom he has a 2 ½-year-old daughter.
Those memories sparked Davis-Gaither and several of his family members to host the Akeem Davis-Gaither Coat Drive in Thomasville with the goal of providing coats to hundreds of children in kindergarten to 12th grade.
"He told me there was a local woman who would always pitch in to get him and his siblings coats and other things," Miller said. "He's never forgotten that. His parents are better off financially now. His dad, who coaches at West Point Army, always told Akeem to give back when he is able. He can do that now."
Davis-Gaither's parents are Sevonne Davis and Keith Gaither.
New or gently used winter coats can be dropped off at the following locations in Thomasville through Jan. 1.
- Emanuel Baptist Church, 204 Turner St.
- Rich Fork Church, 3993 Old US Highway 29
- First Presbyterian Church, 21 Randolph St.
- Thomasville Library branch, 14 Randolph St.
If you are unable to get to one of the locations or would rather provide a monetary donation to purchase new coats, Miller said you can mail the coat or money to 409-E Davidson St., Thomasville, NC 27360.
Davis-Gaither, Miller and several of his family members will be on hand Jan. 10 at the Thomasville Police Department from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for a drive-thru coat pick up. Anyone in need can drive-thru, tell them the size coat needed and receive one.
"His family is very hands-on with anything Akeem does," Miller said. "His brother is Evander Davis and his sister is Jonesha Davis."
Miller said the coat drive is especially important this year to Davis-Gaither because he learned from a relative who works in the Thomasville City Schools system that the number of homeless, school-age children in his hometown has increased.
"Our goal is to have at least 200 coats," she said. "We know that there are about 200 homeless kids in Thomasville."
The Thomasville branch of the Davidson County Public Library is helping the Thomasville native achieve this goal by offering a chance for coat donors to win a basket of prizes.
"His goal is to give back to his community and that is something we can support," said Keaton Tony, branch manager. "If you donate a coat, your name is entered in for a chance to win a basket with an Amazon Echo Dot, candle, drinkware and other items. The items in the basket are valued at $100 right now."
A local dry cleaner will clean any gently used coats donated before they are distributed on Jan. 10.
Davis-Gaither propelled himself into a middle-round NFL prospect at Appalachian State after a successful senior college season that ended with him being named Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Davis-Gaither then played in the Senior Bowl, where he was coached by the Bengals' staff. They liked his speed, motor and instincts at linebacker as well as his propensity to make big plays in big games, according to information sports writer Mike Duprez included in an earlier story about the football player.
To cap off his high school career, Davis-Gaither was the 2014 Central Carolina Conference Defensive Player of the Year.