There are signs all around that life is starting to return to normal after living with the COVID-19 pandemic for over 13 months.
But normal life for so many is a far cry from what it should be.
While food insecurity came to light in a manner like never before during the pandemic with so many people losing jobs and finding themselves looking for assistance for the first time, there are many who have lived with those struggles long before the pandemic and will live with them long after the pandemic.
That is why the Steelers continue to partner with Convoy of Hope, hosting a distribution at Heinz Field on Saturday during the NFL Draft to bring the basic necessities, as well as some special treats, to families in the Pittsburgh area.
"For the people we help, getting back to normal is a struggle to put food on the table, are they going to be able to pay their rent," said Kirk Noonan, Vice President of the Convoy Nation segment of Convoy of Hope. "When we talk to people it's the same kind of reaction, how helpful all of it is. I am optimistic things will eventually get back to normal, but for the families in the margins, their realities are still tough.
The Steelers are working with Convoy of Hope for a distribution of food and necessities for area families at Heinz Field during the 2021 NFL Draft weekend
"Last year when the pandemic started, we committed to providing 10 million meals throughout the United States. That went over 200 million meals which we were super excited about. We had to change the way we do our outreach. We had to do them as a drive through. We did several of those with the Steelers. What was interesting was you would see some cars and think, wow, that is a nice car, do these people really need help. And we serve anybody that shows up. When they would pull up, I would often talk to people, ask if this would help out. They would tell us they lost both jobs and are in dire straits right now. We saw people who wouldn't normally need the help, suddenly needed the help. I think that is why it was so important not just meeting people's physical needs, but letting them know the community is here, they brought Convoy to you. They want to let you know there are resources out there, but also people coming together to let the people in the community who are suffering we are going to rally around you and help. That was so encouraging to see.
"We can't forget those who still need the help. That is the thing in America, we have a tendency to forget. But there are people that are living on the margin. Just because things are getting better for everyone else, it doesn't mean it's getting better for the families who are suffering. If we can eradicate COVID, not deal with that, that takes away a big problem. But the basic needs are still there. Our job is to not solve people's problems. We want to give a hand up so they can pull themselves up out of this tough time. We can't do that without people like the Steelers, the Rooney family, Vance and Kendi McDonald, Ben and Ashley Roethlisberger. We can't do it without those friends. It's so important to always be looking for people to serve. There are always people who need help."
Around 800 people were being served at the in-person event, with McDonald, Steelers first round pick Najee Harris and Zach Banner on hand to help. The families walked through Heinz Field to different stations, all following strict protocols, to pick up items and enjoy special experiences as guests of honor for the afternoon. Among those attending were people served by organizations in the Pittsburgh area, including Casa San Jose, Amachi Pittsburgh, Urban League, Boys and Girls Club, Gwen's Girls, Latino Community Center, Homewood Children's Village, Clairton Youth Development Opportunities, YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, The Center that Cares, Macedonia FACE and Jeremiah's Place.
"We believe most people need just a little bit of help," said Noone. "You can give them some groceries, hygiene kits, and it does a lot of things. It helps them, encourages them and gives them hope. If we can empower people when they get a little help to pull themselves up, that is a huge win.
"People are strong. We always want to treat them like a guest of honor. If you help them, encourage them, give them things to help them, it gives them a break from the realities of poverty, hunger. It has a huge impact on the families, the community and the people serving them.
"We're always blown away by the Steelers. They think about how do we win games, how do we win Super Bowls, but they are also thinking about how do we use our platform to reach the Pittsburgh community. And that is so amazing."