By Teresa Varley
On an unseasonably cold October night that sent a chill right through you, Steelers players did their part to make sure a group of kids didn't feel the effects of it as they took part in Project Bundle-Up.
Project Bundle-Up is a Salvation Army program that provides winter outerwear for needy children in Southwestern Pennsylvania and was founded by Patricia Rooney, wife of Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, and Joe DeNardo, retired WTAE -TV weatherman.
"It's a lot of fun. I have been here every year," said Mrs. Rooney. "It's very important to me. I love seeing the interaction of the young children with the players. It's such a bond they form in just a few minutes."
The players took kids from the Homewood-Brushton Salvation Army shopping at Macy's at Ross Park Mall in the Pittsburgh area for winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves.
"This is what it is all about, giving back to the community, especially with these kids who are in an unfortunate situation and aren't as blessed as we are," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "We are able to be role models. These kids look up to us and watch us each Sunday.
"It's great to team up with the Salvation Army and come out and support them. I look forward each and every year to project Bundle-Up. The weather is getting kind of cold and we need to go out here and get these kids in some nice coats. It's an honor and thrill for me to take part in this event every year."
Ward was one of 28 players who were on hand, some of them selecting sporty jackets for the boys, while others were awash in pink shopping with the girls.
"I have a wife so I am more accustomed to shopping for girls than boys so it wasn't hard," said tight end Sean McHugh, who had some help shopping from his wife Ashlee and son Jack. "It is fun. I can bring my family out and it makes it even more fun. To see the kids get excited about getting some clothes and know you are helping them. It's a good deal. This was pretty neat."
The players definitely seemed to have as much fun as the kids, with smiles and laughter plentiful as even kids who were timid and shy when they first met the players opened up and were sharing stories and showing their purchases off to each other by nights end.
"It's always a special time when you get to give back and help those in need," said offensive tackle Max Starks. "For these kids to see that somebody is taking time out to care about them being warm for the winter, especially professional athletes, it means a lot to them."
And Starks might not even realize how much it means. He was one of the players who went the extra mile, along with some of his other teammates including Ward and Jeff Reed, and got the kids more than was expected.
Starks went into the mall and came back with boots for his shopping buddy, while Reed took his shopper with him to go out and find boots and new tennis shoes. Ward took the young boy he was shopping with for some extras, including jeans and a Ward jersey, which he promptly signed.
"That's what it's all about," said Ward. "These kids get a sparkle in their eyes when they are shopping with the players. It's a special feeling to be able to be in this position to give back."