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Taking care of their community

It's a time of year when families come together to celebrate the joy of the season, to enjoy warm holiday gatherings and exchange gifts filled with love.

But for many, it's a time when they have to make tough choices. Do they provide a warm and welcoming meal on Christmas Day, or do they use the funds to make sure there is a special gift under the Christmas tree or do they use the money to pay their bills, including the rising cost of heating bills this time of year?

It's a decision nobody should be forced to make and that is why Cam Heyward and Coach Mike Tomlin took the decision-making away from them.

Heyward provided a turkey and all the trimmings for a holiday meal for 200 families on Pittsburgh's South Side, while Tomlin did the same for 200 families in the Homewood area. 

Both did the food distributions in conjunction with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, allowing the families to save the money they would spend on a meal and use it to spread love in other ways.

"We value the community partnerships at every level, but just with the influence the Steelers have in the community and the great work they have done throughout the years, having them as a partner of ours is extremely valuable," said Brian Gulish, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the food bank.

This is the third year for Heyward's food distribution, doing it the past two years at Thanksgiving. It's just another aspect of his vast community outreach, his passion for helping others.

"It's a call to action," said Heyward. "You want to make sure you are there when you can be for the community. As years go on you get more and more people involved. It's hard to see people in need but it just means it's time to step up and I want to make sure I do my part.

"It's critical. I know the holidays can be a stressful time for people. We want to make sure we get that question out of there. Enjoy your Christmas. I want to make sure these guys have a great holiday." 

Heyward, who had help handing out the food from Tyson Alualu, Henry Mondeaux, Charlie Batch and Lavon Hooks, understands the impact he can have on the community and embraces that.

"It's an opportunity to interact with people from Pittsburgh," said Heyward. "Around the holidays people look forward to this. I don't look for a thank you, but these people are just so grateful. The interaction, you see how much this community is tight-knit. How much they love the Steelers. I am happy to be a Steeler. It means a lot."

The food bank serves over 300,000 people who are food insecure, including 80,000 children in 11 counties. Getting help from others is something that is invaluable to them.

"We have a wonderful turnout," said Charlese McKinney, Network Development Director for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. "The community is very grateful for the support Cam has provided. It's a very difficult time, the holidays with utility bills rising and so forth, so when we ease people's budgets with the generosity of folks like Cam, we're happy to be involved.

"The need is pretty significant. We have folks who's demographics are changing. You have grandparents raising their grandchildren on fixed income. You have people having to make difficult choices, do we pay our bills, do we get medicine, do we get food. The holiday times are particularly hard. When we can have someone step up and help our families, we are very grateful for that."

Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin provided food for families through the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

Tomlin has quietly been doing a turkey distribution in the Pittsburgh area for years, his desire to do nothing more than help those in the community where he lives.

And he does it with his family right by his side.

"Not only is it an opportunity to give back to the community in which I live, but it's also an opportunity to teach my children the spirit of giving. To watch them as they get older, each and every year, to appreciate an opportunity and see what a blessing it is to share our blessings with others, that is what makes it an awesome event for me, watching my kids."

While Tomlin doesn't mind getting his hands dirty handing out the turkeys and all the trimmings, what he loves the most is the interaction with the individuals and families as they come through the line, laughing, joking, talking football and talking family.

"I like the fact that I have been so visible for so long that the newness has worn off and we have conversations as opposed to them viewing me like they just met me for the first time," said Tomlin. "I take pride in really enjoying that aspect of it as well."

The food distribution benefited families in the Homewood area, an area of the city that often gets overlooked but Tomlin makes sure is taken care of.

"This is one of our greatest areas of need, the Homewood area, and it is one that needs a lot of services," said McKinney. "To have Coach there, year after year, and spend time with families in that community is very welcoming.

"He sets an example for his team and a high standard. He talks the talk, but he walks the walk. He takes the time. He talks to every single person. He makes everyone feel equal, as we all are."

Tomlin, who got a helping hand from JuJu Smith-Schuster, spends time talking with the recipients, sometimes even getting a little friendly advice. 

"It's so much more intimate," said McKinney. "He has a lot of great interaction with folks. There is something about his leadership that exudes. He is such a warm person and I think it's a different side than what people are accustomed to seeing. And his dedication to the community is evident.

"People look forward to this distribution. He takes time and talks to folks. It's a little more of a relaxed environment. And people always have football advice for him, and he just takes it in stride."

Cameron Heyward and Coach Mike Tomlin provided food for families through the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank