The Steelers have a strong bond with the Pittsburgh community, and that bond continued to grow over the past year through the Steelers Social Justice Fund.
The program, which is in its third year and led by the players with support from the team, is an effort to engage with various factions, including law enforcement, charitable organizations, military and more to strengthen the community at large.
Steelers players and the organization as a whole did their part to make a difference, aiding organizations financially through player donations, which the team then matched.
The players and organization combined to donate $432,400 to 21 different organizations in Pittsburgh and several in players hometowns.
"The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh has been around for 102 years," said Esther Bush, the President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. "Our relationship with the Steelers goes back for some time. When you see a Steelers player choose the Urban League, and he has heard about us or read about us through the work we do every single day, we are hoping what we bring to the community to make the community better, especially for Black folks and low income individuals, is making the right impact.
"For the organization, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to match the player's donations, it means so much. We are extremely appreciative and grateful. The organization stands behind its reputation for caring about the community. I just want to say thank you to the Steelers organization. The Steelers organization has been a good supportive friend of the Urban League for a number of years."
Some of the organizations who were aided include organizations that provide assistance to help with food insecurity, equity and inclusion, housing and more, some of those issues where the need grew incredibly over the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As everyone has seen on the news, food insecurity has skyrocketed in our region," said Sara Swaney, Senior Director of Advancement for 412 Food Rescue. "What we typically saw at 412 Food Rescue was that one in eight people were experiencing food insecurity. Meaning they don't have a reliable source for a meal to provide to their family.
"What we are seeing now is one in four, so it's pretty much doubled. I think that was visible early on when we saw so many people lined up at large scale distribution events. We did that as well. Support from our local, recognized individuals is so important. It brings attention to the work we do, and that is so important."
Many of the organizations who were aided are United Way agencies, further strengthening the bond between the Steelers and the United Way.
"The work that the Steelers organization overall and players specifically support through the Social Justice Fund provides important resources for United Way programs that help children lead better lives, to provide services and tools that help them succeed," said Bobbi Watt Geer, President and CEO of the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania. "Our joint commitment to social justice in the Pittsburgh region can be life-changing for young people. We greatly appreciate this important partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers organization."
One of the best things about the program is that it isn't just about the financial donations. It's about making a commitment to organizations and providing support through different channels.
"In the bigger picture this is going to make a change, all of us helping out," said center Maurkice Pouncey. "This social justice program isn't a thing that was just set up just to appease people. It's going to make a difference. That is one of the biggest things, when I saw it moving forward that I can really appreciate about it.
"It's a blessing to see so many players, including younger ones, get involved. They see the bigger picture. They know we are all blessed in a tremendous amount of ways. For those guys to buy in at a young age, and they see that it's bigger than them. They see other people are out there hungry, they see other people out there that are in need. That is a big plus for sports in general."
Pouncey, along with Cameron Heyward, were players who got the Social Justice Grant program rolling several years ago and set the bar high for their teammates, both donating $50,000 this year.
"We always talk about addressing the needs," said Heyward. "The community needs to know that not just I care, but the Steelers care and the leaders among the Pittsburgh community care as well. There are always going to be things we can accomplish together. I feel lucky to be able to help again this year.
"There are so many stories. I understand we're able to do our jobs. Some people aren't. It's been very tough for families. I am proud to see our players doing their part through the grant program. They continue to grow in their part. It's not something I take lightly. If you choose to be involved, be involved. That goes a long way. It's not just about football. We want to be men of service and I think this is a good step."