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Sharing and caring at Thanksgiving

On Thursday families will gather to give thanks, share stories and memories, and enjoy a special meal with the ones they love.

But the harsh reality is, not everyone has the ability to easily enjoy that luxury. With COVID-19 still having an impact on the community, from food insecurity to mounting bills, many need help this holiday season and the Steelers are doing their part for those struggling to make ends meet.

The team worked in conjunction with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to provide a complete Thanksgiving dinner for families in the Pittsburgh area through three separate food distributions.

"We're grateful to the Steelers organization and the players for coming out and lending a hand and helping their neighbors, helping our neighbors to ensure that they have enough food to eat," said Lisa Scales, President and CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. "The Steelers organization is helping us carry out our mission this holiday season. They're giving hope to our neighbors facing hunger by volunteering, by being visible, by handing them a turkey and showing our neighbors that they care and that we're all in this together. This is a team effort. The Steelers teaming up with the food bank brings hope to so many families in Southwestern Pennsylvania."

Coach Mike Tomlin hosted his annual turkey distribution in the Homewood area, something he has done throughout the years since being hired by the Steelers.

"When Coach Tomlin first arrived in Pittsburgh, he reached out soon after he moved here to let us know that he wanted to provide food to families during the holiday season," said Scales. "He's been able to come out with his family members, his wife and his children have participated, and they feel a real connection to Pittsburgh, and they are truly committed to making a difference in people's lives through the distribution of food."

Take a look at photos of the Steelers distributing holiday meals with the help of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Families all received turkeys and all of the fixings for their Thanksgiving dinner, getting the extra boost they need during a trying time.

"This is something I enjoy doing, no question," said Tomlin. "I feel responsible in terms of an obligation to give back to the community, something I want to do to help other. I also want to teach my children and so to have my daughter involved helping and things of that nature are also important."

It wasn't just his family who learned about giving back, as Steelers' rookies assisted with distributing the meals.

"That's an element of our culture here at the Pittsburgh Steelers that we embrace, that we acknowledge," said Tomlin. "It needs cultivating, so getting those young guys out and teaching them and doing it with them is a big component of it."

Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward hosted his annual food distribution, this year a drive-through event held in the parking lots at Heinz Field.

Heyward was joined by many of his teammates, handling the heavy lifting of turkeys and boxes filled with food, while also spreading smiles to everyone.

"It's very humbling to know that you're doing something that is of great need," said Heyward. "Plus, spending time with the people, interacting even for a few minutes, brightens their day while providing necessary food. It means a lot to know how many people you can impact.

"I've been very fortunate and very blessed throughout my life. To see people who have been struggling, I'm very thankful I am able to help a lot of people out."

Heyward is no stranger to giving back to the community, but what he does with the food drive is something that has an instant impact.

"Cam is such an amazing role model and exemplary in terms of community service," said Scales. "When I think of community service, and what it means for athletes to give back to the community, Cam is right up there at the top. Cam is the gold standard, maybe I should say the black and gold standard.

"He gives back at every opportunity, whether it's our turkey distribution, whether it's providing toys or other support for kids in the community. He has such a big heart and he's a terrific spokesperson for our mission. He is in the community, there with us, standing with us providing the food and taking his role as a spokesperson very seriously."

The Steelers also joined forces with the Pirates and Penguins for a #BurghProud Thanksgiving Meal Distribution, with players and coaches from all three teams joining forces to distribute turkeys and all the fixings to hundreds in conjunction with the food bank and Giant Eagle.

"It's unity," said cornerback Cameron Sutton. "We're all together as one. We are one heartbeat. We are one."

And coming together as one is the only way to fight food insecurity in the city.

"To have the three professional teams come together to provide meals to families at Thanksgiving is truly special," said Scales. "We will forever be the City of Champions. We have such a long and proud history of winning on the field, but this exemplifies the winning attitude of our professional teams off the field and in the community.

"This is Pittsburgh at its best, lending a hand to our neighbors who are facing food insecurity. And we've heard from many people we serve recently that the increasing prices at the grocery stores have made budgets even tighter. As a result, they're looking to us to help them with those high value items. And those are the items that the Steelers handed out."

While some have returned to normal life during the on-going pandemic, for those served by the food bank, normalcy is still far away. Financial burdens exist, food insecurity exists, and fear exists. The food bank partnering with such entities as the Steelers helps to battle those factors.

"Thousands of people are continuing to be deeply affected by the pandemic," said Scales. "Despite job availability, many neighbors are still facing real challenges with returning to gainful employment for a variety of reasons, including childcare, transportation, other obligations, health issues. Many of the people we serve are senior citizens who are on a fixed income.

"When you think about the fall and the winter season, and we're approaching winter, that means increased utility costs in addition to the holiday costs. People are serving larger meals, trying to buy gifts during the holiday time. Our neighbors have to make tough choices in order to make ends meet and put food on the table every day.

"We are focused on not only meeting people's immediate needs, but ensuring people have consistent access to nutritious food and that they're eating enough food every day to live a healthy, productive life. At the same time, we are also connecting people to other resources to help them stabilize their lives so that they will not need food assistance so we can truly end hunger."

In addition, several other players did Thanksgiving food distributions.

Through his B3 Foundation, Zach Banner worked with Giant Eagle to provide meals for 40 families through the YMCA in the Hill District. Banner provided turkeys and sides for a full take-home meal.

"During the holiday season there are always families in need," said Banner. "I always want to make somebody smile during the holidays."

Najee Harris, through his Da' Bigger Picture Foundation, worked with others in the Pittsburgh area to provide 700 turkeys during two giveaways in the region.

His foundation is focused on helping underserved families, while providing tools and assistance to families facing challenging times. Hunger is one of the key focuses for the foundation.

Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is also passing out 500 meals to families who have been impacted by the pandemic. The meals will be delivered to individual's homes on Thanksgiving day, doubling the number he did last year through The JuJu Foundation.

"Since last year was such a challenging time for many, we wanted to be sure COVID-19 wasn't stopping anyone from enjoying a Thanksgiving meal," said Smith-Shuster. "We're so excited to be able to double the number of meals we are passing out this Thanksgiving."

If you would like to help in the battle against food insecurity, please visit the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

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