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Holiday spirit in full force at Joy to the Carolinas event

Joy to the Carolinas

CHARLOTTE – Holiday cheer and the giving spirit were in effect for 2,500 deserving people during the fourth annual Joy to the Carolinas event held Tuesday at Carowinds' WinterFest.

Led by owners David and Nicole Tepper, the Panthers partnered with Coca-Cola Consolidated to provide a night of family activities along with giveaways of toys and essential items, such as food, winter clothing, and shoes.

Families started their night picking up winter gear and shoes from Samaritan's Feet, with the Grinch making a special appearance. Children then walked to get photos with Santa before entering the park as holiday music played outside.

As artificial snow fell from the sky to wrap up a welcome show for guests, which included appearances from the TopCats, Sir Purr, PurrCussion drumline, and a group of more than a dozen Panthers players, Nicole Tepper said she felt "tears of happiness."

"Tonight, I had this moment of paying it forward and just being able to be blessed to be in this position to do what we do," she said. "You know, if it wasn't for my husband – who supports me and every big idea I have, which just means the world – and having the Panthers, Coca-Cola, everyone come together tonight; I really felt a moment of, 'Wow, this is a blessing.'"

The players held an autograph signing for children and their families while various rides and games around the park were open to enjoy.

"For us to be able to be out here, and Mr. Tepper and Nicole being able to do the things that they do during the holidays and for us just to be a little part of it, it's special," said defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who earlier Tuesday was named the Panthers' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee.

"During the holidays, a lot of families struggle, and especially (with) all the different circumstances of everything else that goes on in the world."

Guests wrapped up the night with Second Harvest Food Bank take-home meals, sponsored by Harris Teeter, before their final trip to Toyland, sponsored by The David and Nicole Tepper Foundation. At Toyland, children received early Christmas gifts from Panthers rookies and stars.

"I think just seeing the smiles on a child's face, or a parent or guardian who could just take a deep breath for the next couple of weeks, or for them to even know that there's people out there who care about (them) – to give that to a family, to a child, that's really my favorite part," Nicole Tepper said. "But to hug and have fun, laugh and see them eat candy and cookies, that's special too."

Josh Gelinas, vice president, communications of Coca-Cola Consolidated, said it was "uplifting" to see smiles across children's faces as they celebrated the holiday season at Carowinds.

"Serving is at the heart of our purpose at Coke Consolidated," Gelinas said. "We just want to wish everyone across the Carolinas a peaceful and joyful holiday season."

Nicole Tepper said giving around the holiday season — which David Tepper said his wife "loved" and she described as "magical" — was part of a spirit that extends beyond the holidays.

"We do it all year round; it never stops," Tepper said. "I just want people to know that just because the holiday season is over, that doesn't mean we stop. We're always doing it year-round, but it just hits a little different this time of the year. It's magical, and you want to give families the opportunity to have that moment with their family and give back, so it's special."

View photos from Tuesday night at Carowinds as The David and Nicole Tepper Foundation, Coca-Cola Consolidated and other Panthers' partners came together to give toys for over 2,500 people and provide an incredible holiday experience.

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