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Plenty to be thankful for

Thanksgiving in 2020 might not look anything like what families have become accustomed to over the years.

While it will still be a time for counting our blessings, it will likely be with much smaller gatherings than have been the case in years past.

But regardless of the size of the gathering, there are still families struggling to put food on the table, something that has been the case through the years, but hitting new levels this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That is why Steelers players have continued to do their part to give back, including Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster. The players combined with local agencies to provide turkeys and Thanksgiving meals to more than 950 families in Pittsburgh, Erie, Pa. and Long Beach, California.

"I think with everything going on, families can't congregate like they used to, everybody is just trying to have a regular day but they don't always have the means to do it," said Heyward. "I would like to take the burden off of them and let them know people are thinking about them."

Heyward and Pouncey did their giveaway with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, hosting drive through pickups for those in the North Side and Hill District neighborhoods. Conner hosted his in conjunction with Second Harvest Food Bank in his hometown of Erie, Pa, and will do the same at Christmas in Pittsburgh. Smith-Schuster, though the JuJu Foundation, is providing meals for seniors and families in conjunction with ACORx Pharmacy and Dive Bar & Grille in Pittsburgh and New Hope Church and Tranquility Counseling in Long Beach, California, with meals being delivered on Thanksgiving Day in Pittsburgh and a food distribution that already took place in Long Beach.

"I'm excited to support Pittsburgh and Long Beach families in need this Thanksgiving," said Smith-Schuster. "We hope that this small gesture will help bring a sense of comfort and lift the spirits of others."

Because of the pandemic the players weren't able to be on hand for the distributions, something Heyward and Pouncey have always done in the past, but they know the most important thing is everyone being able to safely get what they need during such a tough time.

"I can recall seeing Ben (Roethlisberger) have a drive through distribution, and they were providing meals. It was awesome to see people giving back," said Heyward, who did the donation through the Heyward House. "But it's a record number of people who need help. Who would have every thought we would be in this position? We have to keep fighting through it. We have to keep being there for each other."

Pouncey has been working with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank since 2012, providing over 1,600 turkeys over the years. Since he couldn't be there, he and the others provided prerecorded video messages for the recipients of the food, sharing their love and good wishes to the families.

"Happy Thanksgiving," Pouncey told the recipients. "Sorry the pandemic couldn't put us face-to-face, but I really hope you enjoy this meal. From my heart to yours, take care."

Conner, who grew up in Erie, Pa., wanted to help those hit hard in his hometown.

"I'm sorry I can't be there personally, but my heart is in my hometown," Conner said in his message. "I'm thinking about you guys during tough times, and I wanted to show my gratitude. Happy Holidays."

Some of the families who arrived for the donations didn't even know in some cases they were coming from the players and were thrilled when they learned of their kindness.

"What a humbling, unexpected donation" said Karen Seggi, CEO at Second Harvest. "It is our privilege to provide for families who are in need, especially during the holiday season. But for James to provide a small additional message of hope directly to clients who may be facing unique challenges. This was a special moment for the families we serve."

The Steelers will gather as a family on Thanksgiving night when they host the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, but it will also be a day when they count their blessings for the health of their own families and give thanks for those who have gone above and beyond this year to help everyone else remain safe.

"I am thankful. You can be thankful on the field, but I am thankful to have my family," said Heyward. "I know many people have suffered and gone through their trials and tribulations this year. All we want is to keep our loved ones safe. We can always be thankful for our health.

"A lot of hospitals are overloaded. Our frontline workers have been doing an amazing job. There is a lot to be thankful for. I think this time has provided a lot of clarity for that."

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