Steelers bring smiles and keep kids warm

Posted Oct 11, 2011

On a beautiful fall evening with temperatures hovering around 70 degrees, the last thing on the mind of most people was shopping for a winter coat.

But for 45 kids from the Pittsburgh Westside Salvation Army there was nothing else they would have rather been doing.  

Steelers players took the kids shopping at Macy’s at Ross Park Mall as a part of Project Bundle-Up, a Salvation Army program that provides winter outerwear for needy children in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“It’s so nice outside today and they are saying I don’t want a coat, it’s not cold,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who was joined by his wife Ashley. “But it’s nice to know when the winter comes and the snow is here they will be warm. It’s an awesome thing. And it’s so much fun once you get them under control and realize what they need. We enjoyed picking out stuff and I hope they did.”

The kids were able to select a winter coat, as well as a hat, scarf and gloves, and in many cases players purchased extra items for them, from socks to sweatshirts, bringing plenty of joy to the youngsters.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Hines Ward. “To get a chance to see these kids and go shopping with them, it’s special. It puts things in perspective. There is so much more we can do outside of football and giving back is always good.”

Ward is a regular at Project Bundle-Up, but this year things were a little bit different for him.

“I usually am paired up with boys shopping but this time I got a little girl,” said Ward. “I had to change my way of thinking. I have to think outside the box. Gwendolyn is a little firecracker. She wants everything she sees so I have to dress her up nice.”

Max and Tiffany Starks were shopping with two little girls who were looking stylish in all purple, from their coat to their earmuffs. Starks said he was happy about the timing of his return to the Steelers that he didn’t miss coming to Project Bundle-Up.

“Tiffany and I love coming to this event,” said Starks. “This is always fun to help the young ones get ready for the winter, especially with the weather changing soon. It’s great to add some joy to their lives.

“This is the first year I have gotten girls. I usually get boys, but this is the first time with a pair of girls. I am glad my wife is here to help because it’s something I am not too familiar with.”

The children that take part in the shopping night are selected based on their need, with Project Bundle-Up possibly being the only way the kids will be able to get new winter outerwear.

“It’s important because you know they will be warm this winter,” said Major William Bode, Divisional Commander for the Western Pennsylvania Salvation Army. “And when people ask where did you get that coat they will be able to say they got it at Macy’s with the Steelers and Salvation Army. This is helping the families, helping the parents know their kids are warm going back and forth to school and out playing.

“This is so exiting. You look at the kids and look into their eyes and see them with the football players. I wonder if being with the football players is greater than getting the coat, hat and gloves because they will never forget this night, being able to shop with these professional football players.”

One child who certainly won’t forget the night is Don, a well-mannered, well-spoken 12-year old who was there with his younger brother and having the time of his life shopping with Brett and Sarah Keisel.

“I am honored to be here. I am stunned,” he said. “I never thought I would get this chance. I am so honored to be in Brett’s presence. I really enjoy being in his company. He is awesome. He has the perfect spirit. I never thought in a million years I would be doing this with a Steelers player.

“It’s a night I will never, ever forget. I will tell my kids this story. I got to meet this famous football player. He is number 99, almost 100. He is almost perfect, but nobody is perfect but he is close to it.”

He also understands the impact it will have on his family, the pressure it will take off his mother and the ability it will give her to do other things the family.
“It really helps my mom,” said Don. “It’s great because my mom was like you really need this stuff for winter. She was going to get it, but for her to be able to get it through this helps. She does everything for us. She is the best. She tries her best. She really enjoys this program because it allows her to have more money for us in the future and she says thank you.”

As Keisel stood listening to Don, he was playfully putting hats on his head, smiling and laughing. But you could also see how touched he was, understanding the impact that all of the players who took part had on the kids.

“The best part is meeting the kids, talking to them, seeing how they are doing and helping them pick some warm attire for these cold Pittsburgh winters,” said Keisel. “I had a great time. Any time you get to be around a kid like Don, he is awesome. He lifts your spirits, he is happy, he loves life.

“It makes me proud to come and be a part of this.”

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