A back to school blitz

With kids heading back to school, sending them back fully equipped with all of the necessities is definitely a priority.

But for some families, making that a priority is a challenge. And with the pandemic still ongoing, the challenge is even greater.

That is why the Steelers joined forces with others to be a part of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Back to School event.

Around 1,500 stuffed backpacks were given away to students in the parking lots at Heinz Field on Friday, which included a variety of items such as hygiene kits donated by the Steelers, as well as books, water bottles, hand sanitizer, cloth masks, disinfectant wipes and more provided by an array of agencies. In addition, they all got a grab-and-go meal during the drive-up event.

"We're in the thick of a pandemic," said Merecedes Williams, Media Manager for Pittsburgh Public Schools. "We understand that families have resources that need to be met and Pittsburgh Public Schools is here to meet those needs. The idea is that there's a plethora of opportunities available here for families, from books, to stuffed bookbags, hand sanitizers, cloth masks, hygiene kits from the Pittsburgh Steelers. The idea is meeting every need we can.

"We recognize that some things are in limbo, especially with the pandemic and your health and the first day of school and getting ready. One thing we want families to worry less about is what they'll have on the first day of school. This was a one stop shop, you pull up here with your Pittsburgh Public School family, you get necessities and resources to have an equitable, efficient start for the first day of school."

Steelers players were on hand to assist in handing out the items, including Zach Banner, Kevin Dotson, Trey Edmunds, Dewayne Haskins and Alex Highsmith, as well as former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch.

"Pittsburgh Public Schools, the Pittsburgh Police, United Way, those are just a few that helped out today with us, but they all have a huge reputation of helping the city and helping kids of need and especially the inner city of Pittsburgh," said Banner, whose B3 Foundation also was a part of it. "To be a part of that, out there with the amazing volunteers, it was so worth it to see the smiles on the faces we saw today.

"Not only are they grateful to so many organizations and the volunteers, but they were grateful to have the Pittsburgh Steelers there too. Growing up, I understand how it is when professional athletes care about the city and the people in the community.

"It's crazy how people try to make things happen and make sure they happen regardless of the situation. There was a line of cars from the parking lot to PNC Park. That is a reflection of the need and demand in the city, but also the people who rely on us and our services."

Steelers players were on hand to distribute hygiene kits to students as part of the Pittsburgh Public Schools 'Back to School' event

This is the ninth year the Back to School event has taken place, and the need today is the same as it was when the program began.

"We realize that the pandemic has exacerbated it," said Williams. "We're remaining consistent by staying here regardless of the situation. I am a Pittsburgh Public School graduate and employee, but I'm also the mother of three Pittsburgh Public School children, so I know what it means to scramble around over the summer to get ready for the first day of school, and that's just not a burden that we want on our families ever.

"When people see the Pittsburgh Steelers, they see the professional sports team. They're more than that, we love them when they're on the field, but we also love the fact they've been able to deposit into the community, even if it's for a little bit which is not. We appreciate the Pittsburgh Steelers, the leadership and organization, for saying that Pittsburgh Public Schools and their families are a vital part of this community."

After helping to hand out backpacks at Heinz Field, Highsmith joined his father, Sam Highsmith, to hand out 75 backpacks and school supplies they donated to Clairton Elementary School through the recently launched Alex Highsmith Family Foundation.

"It means a lot to be able to do this," said Highsmith. "Me and my dad just started our foundation, the Alex Highsmith Family Foundation. That was cool to be able to start that. Our biggest passion, biggest area of influence is the youth. It's important to invest in the next generation, the youth of our country. It starts with this. Getting prepared for school, back to school. Education matters more than anything. I wanted to be an inspiration to them. Just to show them how important education in school is."

Pittsburgh Steelers LB Alex Highsmith donates backpacks and supplies to Clairton Elementary School students through the Alex Highsmith Family Foundation

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