The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, who played at Trinity Catholic High School, spent thousands to help customers at the Burlington Coat Factory.
Sherita Graham received a phone call from the Burlington Coat Factory store manager over the weekend, asking if Graham could stop by the store on Monday.
Graham was concerned. She had nearly $500 worth of her grandchildren’s presents on layaway at Burlington. She wasn’t sure how she would pay the layaway off before Christmas.
Graham decided to go to the store early on Monday to beat a rain storm that was approaching. When she got inside, she met Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III, who played football for Trinity Catholic High School and the University of Akron before he was drafted into the NFL last spring.
That’s when Graham learned that Gilbert had paid for 60 layaways at the store, located in the Shady Oaks Shopping Center.
"I thought I was going to pass out," said Graham, 55. She said it was the kindest gesture she has ever received.
The day before his appearance in Ocala, Gilbert retweeted a tweet about Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Harris, who had paid off layaways at another Burlington Coat Factory.
Gilbert has yet to mention his own good deed. Gilbert had partnered with the nonprofit "Pay Away the Layaway" foundation, according to Burlington officials.
Though it has been reported by some of Monday’s recipients that more than $15,000 worth of layaways were paid off in Ocala on Monday, store officials say they can’t disclose the total amount.
Mark Shipman, the Ocala store manager, said Monday’s event was special.
"He (Gilbert) is a good person," Shipman said. "You could tell he was doing it for the right reasons, out of the kindness from his heart."
The "Pay Away the Layaway" nonprofit was launched in 2011. The group raises funds all year to pay off layaways for children at stores "like Kmart, Burlington, Walmart, Navy Exchange, and the Army & Air Force Exchange during back-to-school and the holidays," the agency website states.
On Facebook, Graham’s sister, Sheila Plumley, marked the occasion with a photo of her and Gilbert at Burlington.
Plumley said Gilbert was the nicest person ever and did a wonderful thing for so many people.
Also on Facebook, Graham called Gilbert "a very nice young man."
She added that Gilbert’s mother, who also attended the event, was a very nice lady.
"I must have hugged him about 50 times," she wrote.
Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.