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Helping others out at Thanksgiving

There never is a time people should struggle to put a meal on the table for their family, but at Thanksgiving, that need becomes even more amplified as the centerpiece of the day is gathering for Thanksgiving dinner.

That is why the Steelers and NFL teamed with the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania to provide boxes of food for 75 families through Center of Life in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood neighborhood.

The boxes contained everything from potatoes and vegetables, to stuffing and pies, and everything in between to help make Thanksgiving an enjoyable day.

While the team couldn't hand the food out in person because of COVID-19 protocols, the recipients did take part in a fun, unique Zoom call. The call, which was hosted by actor and Pittsburgh native Joe Manganiello, was with Ryan Shazier, who spent time talking to them, giving them his support and encouragement, and wishing them the best during the toughest of times and taking part in a Q & A.

"I am just glad to be involved with this," said Shazier. "I hope you guys enjoy the dinner. I think it's a wonderful time. COVID is slowing everybody down. I just hope everybody has a wonderful Thanksgiving. We understand how important this time of year is. Especially right now, it's a lot harder for everyone. We hope this brings some joy and cheer to families who need it. Everyone needs it right now."

For almost 20 years Center of Life has provided services for people in Hazelwood, including family strengthening, music and arts, education, athletics and more. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they have had to expand their services to include food distribution and delivery and serving as a community learning hub to help children who are going through remote learning.

"We're thankful to you, the Steelers, NFL, United Way and everyone else for helping us get these meals," said Tim Smith, the CEO for Center of Life. "The gift, you have no idea how important and meaningful it is to be able to have the resources. We can't do our work without our partners. This is huge for us. We can't do it without people coming alongside us."

The food boxes helped Center of Life supplement their annual turkey giveaway, something Franco Harris has been involved with through the years.

"I want to thank everyone for this," said Patrick Ohrman, development manager for Center of Life. "When you can provide a meal for someone else, it provides much more than a meal. It provides that person the opportunity to further themselves in other ways. When you don't have to worry about food, you can worry about the other stuff. This means the world to everybody that we see each and every day. We can't thank everyone enough."

Shazier's involvement with the food distribution, even though it was remote because of the pandemic, is just another example of what he is doing to help the community. The last few days have been huge for him, as he announced his new foundation this week as well, Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation, to support spinal cord injury patients. His battle with his own injury, and his amazing recovery, inspired him to help others.

"My foundation is about people dealing with spinal cord issues. I dealt with the issue myself. I understand how much support and care you need for those with spinal cord issues," said Shazier. "Sometimes people don't get the right amount of care or support or rehab they need. I started this to give them more support, the caregivers more support and help them get more rehab. You always have to do some kind of rehab when injured. For spinal cord, usually you only get 30 sessions of rehab. That's like trying to teach your kid to walk again in 30 sessions. That is almost impossible.

"We are just trying to give people more rehab, opportunities, give people back a meaningful lifestyle. Everyone is not going to walk again but give them the opportunity to get back to some type of independence. That is what my foundation is about, giving people back independence, letting them do things on their own and just give them the opportunity to have support. A lot of time with spinal cord issues that is the end of the road for them. I wanted to give them an opportunity and let them know they aren't alone."

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