Spreading joy at the holidays

It's a time of year for giving back, for spreading joy and helping others. And when it comes to giving back, Steelers players definitely get into the spirit. That is why many of them have been doing their part this holiday season to make sure that Christmas is merry and bright for those in need.

Multiple players took kids from local organizations on holiday shopping trips, buying gifts for the kids, and helping the kids select gifts for family and loved ones.

Cornerback Levi Wallace, through his foundation, took kids from the UPMC's Children's Hospital Family Care Connection shopping. Family Care Connection works in partnership with families to meet their goals and help children achieve brighter futures.

"Christmas is about giving back," said Wallace. "I did the same event last year and I saw the effect it has on kids, and I wanted to do it again. Living through their perspective, what is important to them. The younger girls want the dolls and the princess stuff, and the older kids who don't have as much are looking for the clothes, or to buy their mom something, or buy groceries. You see things from their point of view, and it puts everything in perspective for me. It's about connecting with the kids and giving back to them. I have been blessed with so much that I want to be a blessing to others."

And a blessing he was. The joy he brought to the kids is something they will hold with them long after the holidays pass.

"It's humbling," said Wallace. "Sometimes we take what we have for granted. There are kids who just want some milk for their favorite cereal that they can't get all of the time. It's a humbling experience for me and my teammates who join me when we see those perspectives.

"It's so cute when you see a cart full of pink, and then the different age groups. And then some of the kids are so mature. Going through a lot matures you fast. It lets you appreciate what you have a lot more."

Tight end Pat Freiermuth and safety Karl Joseph partnered with North Hills Affordable Housing, Inc. (HEARTH) to take kids on a shopping trip. HEARTH provides the families they work with the tools needed to thrive emotionally, mentally and financially. Their mission is to provide a range of supportive services and housing that empowers homeless families, who are survivors of domestic violence or other trauma to become independent, self-sufficient, and adequately housed and to foster housing opportunities to prevent homelessness and encourage safe, affordable housing.

"That is something I have always wanted to do, a passion of mine," said Joseph. "I love kids. I always felt like my purpose was more than football, it was to impact kids. Growing up I didn't have much. I came from a single parent home, my mom working a lot and making sure we got what we needed, sometimes sacrificing other stuff. I know how hard it is for those kids to grow up fast, grow up worse than I did, not have a great holiday because they can't afford a lot. Just to bring a smile to their face, that means something to me, to make their day, spend time with them. It's more than the shopping, it's giving time and letting them know somebody cares about that. That means more."

Freiermuth loved to see the smiles on the kid's faces as they picked out some of their favorite things, knowing how easy it is to take for granted the blessings he has.

"I enjoy it a lot," said Freiermuth. The kids I went shopping with, they didn't have the opportunities I had. The position I am in, I want to be a role model for them. I want to help them have the best Christmas possible.

"It's definitely humbling. I was very fortunate growing up to always have new clothes, food and things like that, the necessities of life. Seeing what some of the kids get, it's huge to know the impact you can have.

"It's so worth it to go out in the community, see the little kids smile when they are able to get some gifts, when they spend time with me. It's so worth it."

Take a look at photos of Steelers players taking kids from local agencies shopping for the holidays

Giving back is something that defensive end Larry Ogunjobi learned about watching his parents. They instilled in him the importance of it, and that's why he was thrilled to take kids from the YWCA on a shopping excursion.

"My parents have always had a spirit of giving, ever since I was young," said Ogunjobi. "Being able to be in the position I am, giving back is important. Any time I can give back, especially during the holidays, I try to make myself available in any capacity I can.

"I think it is super cool. You get kids from all walks of life and its unique to see what the kids pick. They pick things for themselves, their mom or dad, their grandparents. It shows their personality. Some kids will get a whole bunch of video games or toys. Other kids will get clothes and supplies. It's always interesting to see what the kids need. It's a great thing to be able to give back. It's a fun time."

Seeing what some of the kids have been through in their lives, the struggles and how the simple things matter, puts in all into perspective for Ogunjobi.

"When I did this last year, we had a kid last year get all clothes," said Ogunjobi. "He wanted to be more professional because he was starting an internship and he wanted to make an impression. It shows what is important and puts things in perspective.

"A lot of times, especially during the holidays, we get caught up in what we need, what we have to take care of. Sometimes it's good to take a step back and fill up somebody else's cup."

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