Blessings in a Backpack SWFL Champions event ignited students at Edison Park Creative and Expressive Arts Elementary

Blessings in a Backpack SWFL Champions event ignited students at Edison Park Creative and Expressive Arts Elementary

NFL and wrestling champions, musical duo, and Tony the Tiger awe-inspired all

On Friday, April 26, 2024, third, fourth and fifth graders experienced a life-changing event when NFL and wrestling champions, musical duo Chris & Lolly and Tony the Tiger appeared at Edison Park Creative and Expressive Arts Elementary. The Lee County school auditorium became electric the moment Nashville-based duo, Chris & Lolly started to sing. Students in attendance were given a ganzá percussion instrument, so they could perform during the concert. The performance hall was buzzing with delight as Lolly led vocals and instructed the students to whistle along loudly to Otis Redding’s “The Dock of the Bay.”


Following the performance, Blessings in a Backpack SWFL executive director, Cecilia St. Arnold welcomed the champions, which included retired NFL all-stars and wrestling superstars. Retired NFL pros included linebacker Rogers Alexander, fullback Brian O’Neal, offensive lineman Marco Rivera, defensive back Thomas Smith, linebacker Matt Vanderbeek, and center Frank Winters. Wrestling champions Nate Carr and Pat Milkovich also delivered an empowering message to students and teachers alike.

NFL and wrestling champions present to elementary studentsChampions 4 Children is one of our most popular events for kids. It’s rare to learn firsthand in elementary school from NFL Super Bowl champs, and wrestling icons. The children were on fire with our champions’ enthusiasm. They listened intently to their message about discipline, reaching for success, and remembering they’re given a unique purpose when they pursue their dreams,” said Cecilia St. Arnold, Executive Director for Blessings in a Backpack SWFL.

The presentation concluded when Tony the Tiger appeared and students were invited to meet the Champions, take photos, shake hands, and even autograph footballs. All students were then sent back to class with Blessings in a Backpack weekend food packs. Tony the Tiger and crew visited the other classrooms and distributed weekend food packs so students would have them schoolwide.

Retired NFL/NCCA athletes include: 

Rogers Alexander — Penn State University, New York Jets, New England Patriots

Brian O’Neal — Penn State University, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers

Marco Rivera — Penn State University, Green Bay Packers, Dallas Cowboys

Thomas Smith — University of North Carolina, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts

Matt Vanderbeek — Michigan State University, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys – Super Bowl 28 Champions, Washington Redskins

Frank Winters — Western Illinois, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers – Super Bowl 31 Champions

Wrestling Champions include:

Nate Carr — Iowa State University, 1988 Olympic Bronze Medal, Wrestling Hall of Fame Member

Pat Milkovich — Michigan State University, Florida Gulf Coast University

On Friday evening, the Edison Park Elementary chorus performed with JT Hodges to a sold-out crowd at The Forest Country Club. Blessings in a Backpack of SWFL coordinated the exclusive event in partnership with Champions 4 Children, which is a weekend-long event coordinated to raise significant funds for SWFL organizations serving our community.

About Blessings in a Backpack

Hunger has both short- and long-term negative effects on children’s health and ability to succeed in school. Blessings in a Backpack mobilizes communities, individuals, and resources to provide food on the weekends for elementary school children across America who might otherwise go hungry. Blessings in a Backpack will provide 2.5 million hunger-free weekends this school year for kids in 45 states and Washington, D.C. Visit to learn how you can end childhood hunger on the weekends in your community. Visit to learn about happenings in the Southwest Florida region.

Elementary school students and Tony the Tiger