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A time to give thanks, and give back

On Thursday families will gather together to share a Thanksgiving meal, giving thanks for the blessings they have while making great memories with loved ones.

Sadly, though, not everyone has that luxury. There are those who don't have the means to provide a complete Thanksgiving meal for their family, who are doing their best just to make ends meet.

And that is why the Steelers have once again stepped up, working in conjunction with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to provide a complete Thanksgiving dinner for over 600 families in the Pittsburgh area.

Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey and Coach Mike Tomlin all hosted Thanksgiving food distributions, doing what they can to help others have a special holiday.

"We have many of the Steelers players come out and support the community," said Charlese McKinney, Network Development Director for the Food Bank. "We greatly appreciate it. It helps our families in the community.

"As we know the Thanksgiving holiday revolves around the meal. That is a lot of pressure for our families, when utility rates are going up, they are having to get winter clothing and things of that nature. To be able to ease the minds of people we serve and give them one less thing to worry about, makes us very thankful for the help we get and the support from the Steelers."

Pouncey held his annual Thanksgiving food distribution at Stage AE, aiding families from Pittsburgh's North Side. Pouncey was joined by many of his teammates, as well as the Pittsburgh Police Department and local military, to help with the distribution.

"Honestly, it's a great feeling to do this," said Pouncey. "To see the smiles on their faces, have the conversations with the people. People are happy and it's great to give back.

"I have been blessed. I grew up and didn't have a lot of money, but I am so blessed now, me and my brother, Mike. To give back, to be able to cherish these moments with beautiful people like this is awesome. They are just so thankful. They are so excited to talk to us. They talk about the game, they say some of the good and bad. It's fun, it's awesome. The military are here, the police officers are here. It means a lot to us and we are thankful for everything they do and they are a part of us."

It definitely was a group effort, from handing out the turkeys and all of the fixings, to carrying the food to cars, and just making everyone feel cared about.

"One thing about the holidays is people want to be with one another and share love," said Pittsburgh Police Officer Antoine Davis, who works out of the Zone 2 Station in the Hill District. "When you give away something and to help the families that are in need, not only does it bring joy to them, but to the people who are participating. This is something the Steelers have been doing for a few years. This type of event shows the public we are all here to help, we are at your service, and anything you need give us a call, we are there for you."

This is the first year for Heyward's Thanksgiving food distribution, just another aspect of his vast community outreach. Heyward provided meals for families in the Duquesne area, and was joined at the Food Bank for the distribution by his teammates and members of the Duquesne Police Department.

"It's awesome to have a platform we do and be able to give back," said Heyward. "It's not just the Steelers here, we have some fine police men and women helping out. We all care about this community. Every aspect. We are looking to help at the holidays.

"I have some family members that I care about that don't always have everything. When it doesn't just extend to family, it extends to the community, that is even bigger. My parents raised me to help out. I remember growing up at Christmas we would hand out blankets. You meet a kid today, he might do that for someone else."

As families made their way through the line, they shared stories with the players and police officers, took pictures, and showed genuine gratitude and appreciation.

"It's a nice gesture this time of year for (the players) to take time out from their schedule and do this for the Community of Duquesne," said Police Chief Scott Adams. "We try to help the community. They help us. The Steelers are a big part of the community, we are part of the community. We hope our little bit of helping them makes everybody happy for the holidays.

"It's always great when it goes to the people who need it. There are a lot of needy families in Duquesne and I am glad they are getting the opportunity to have a Happy Thanksgiving."

The food bank serves more than 100,000 people monthly, a number they aren't seeing going down. Getting help from others is something that is invaluable to them.

"It's great when we get support from other folks in the community like Cam and the Steelers, who understand the importance of having a well-balanced plate at the holidays," said Tamara Kilgore, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Food Bank. "Part of the Food Bank's mission is to mobilize the community to eliminate hunger. This is a great example. It's great to see people come out and support us.

"The need is great all throughout the year. It is especially poignant this time of year. When you are sitting around hearing people talk about what is your favorite Thanksgiving meal or side, and you know you don't have the means to provide that for the holiday season, that puts you in an uncomfortable position and that is something nobody should have to be in."

Tomlin has quietly been doing a turkey distribution in the Pittsburgh area for years, his desire to do nothing more but help others in the city he now calls home.

"I feel humbled and honored to be able to do that," said Tomlin. "I am always reminded of how fortunate we are. There are people less fortunate than us, really in a very close proximity to the community in which we live. It's an opportunity to teach my kids that they are extremely blessed and they have an obligation to share those blessings with others, and they don't have to look very far to see people in need. My parents did a nice job with me of setting that mentality within me. I am doing that too and hopefully sowing seeds in them that push them to do things when they are in position to do so."

The Tomlin's hand out the turkeys and all of the trimmings as a family, and that spirit of doing it as one unit makes a huge impact on everyone.

"It's really great," said Kilgore. "You hear everyone say they are really busy, when you talk to your friends, your family, everyone says I am really busy. To have someone you know is really busy to come out the night after a night game and ensure families have what they need for the holiday season, it's a true testament to his spirit.

"And bringing his family, it's like that lifestyle philanthropy. That is something you have to be taught. You have to see that just because you open the refrigerator and you see enough food for days, or weeks, not everyone has that same experience. It's seeing what you can do to make sure people have full bellies."

Tomlin spends time talking with the recipients, sometimes even getting a little friendly advice.  

"He is super patient," said Kilgore. "He listens to everything they say, whether it's armchair coaching. He takes it all in and at the end of the day makes sure they are getting what they need for the holidays."  

Joe Haden is also doing his part to help the Food Bank. Haden has launched a limited-edition t-shirt through Steel City, 'Eat, Drink and Be Merry,' to help the Food Bank's Backpack Program.

The backpack program discreetly provides students with a backpack filled with a weekend's supply of nutritious food, as many don't have those options when school meals aren't provided.

"I am excited to help raise awareness and donations to help feed children in need this holiday season," said Haden. "This is the time of year that we all focus on giving back, and I am happy that I can do my part for kids right here in our city."

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