It's the time of year when back to school shopping is in full swing, but for some families getting school supplies can be a struggle. That's why CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates who work with children in the child welfare systems that are neglected or abused, teamed with the Steelers for a backpack giveaway on making sure kids are prepared for the first day back in the classroom.
Steelers' defensive linemen Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon were on hand at the Schenley Park Skating Rink to help distribute the backpacks to children, bringing plenty of smiles and laughter along with them.
"I love giving back. It brings a smile to the kid's faces and we enjoy it," said Heyward. "If there is any way that you can get involved with education, whether it's giving school supplies or encouraging the kids, it's a great thing. These kids might be going through some tough situations so anything you can do to make them happy, even something as simple as a backpack, makes them happy and I am willing to give my time."
The children, who ranged in ages from preschool to middle school, received backpacks, school supplies and gift cards to purchase back to school clothes and shoes, all donated by CentiMark Foundation. And as they were handed their backpacks, the players signed them and posed for pictures.
At times it was hard to tell who was enjoying seeing the backpacks more, the kids or McLendon who is a backpack connoisseur.
"All of the designs are great," said McLendon. "I have a new Ninja Turtles one, but I am not going to break it out yet.
"This is really special. To be able to give back, it's so amazing to see their smiles. It's an awesome feeling to be able to do this, even something as simple as signing autographs and taking pictures."
Heyward joked that as a kid his backpack would get messy pretty fast, but his mother would still get him a new one even if she didn't look forward to it.
"Any time you get the new backpack, it's the first day of school, you are always excited," said Heyward. "It's new supplies and all and you need to be prepared and we want to help these kids out being prepared."
The kids all enjoyed a pizza dinner, as well as fun activities, but the highlight was being handed their backpack from the players.
"It's wonderful for us to be able to give back to the kids and families that we serve in a real concrete, tangible way as they get ready to go back to school," said Melissa Protzek, Executive Director of CASA. "And how cool is it to have your backpack signed Steelers' players as you go back to school. It's a really awesome thing. Meeting the Steelers means so much to the kids."