The spirit of giving is in the air

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  • "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy." – Excerpt from an editorial in the New York Sun, 1897, written in response to a young girl's letter asking if Santa Claus exists.*

It's a time of year for sharing and giving. For reaching out to those who need a hand to make their holiday season bright. It's a time of year for believing that goodness does exist, and no matter how big or small, every kind act can make a difference.

For Steelers players, their acts of kindness are reaching out across the Pittsburgh community and there is no doubt, they are making a difference.

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There is a reason defensive end Cam Heyward was voted the Steelers Walter Payton Man of the Year. Heyward has made a commitment to give back, and that continued when he took kids shopping at Dick's Sporting Goods to help them prepare for the winter days ahead.

"It's about these kids, getting jackets and shoes for them, something they might not get for Christmas," said Heyward, who ran the event through his Heyward House Foundation. "I wanted to make sure everyone went home with a gift."

Heyward took youth from KidsVoice shopping for the items, helping kids who are from abused and neglected backgrounds, kids who are in foster or group homes who don't always have a lot to look forward to.

"They don't have every opportunity to get the things they need," said Heyward. "We thought what better way to get a warm jacket for these kids for the winter than to take them shopping myself."

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Safety Will Allen is all about giving back as well, and he too reached out to those who needed a boost to make Christmas a bit more special through his "Holiday Giving Program, through his Will Allen Foundation. Allen hosted kids from the Boys & Girls Club for an evening of shopping not just for themselves, but for their families as well. The kids were permitted to pick out gifts they could enjoy, but also something for their siblings, parents, grandparents and the like, teaching them a valuable lesson.

"What the Will Allen foundation is all about is paying it forward and giving back," said Allen. "We are teaching them something as they are receiving something."

Allen had help playing Santa from high school students in his Quest Program, who each teamed up with a child for the shopping adventure.

"It makes my heart full to be blessed with the platform to play professional sports and give back to my community here in Pittsburgh," said Allen. "It's an awesome feeling."

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It's become a tradition for William Gay, one that was born out of the tragedy of losing his mother Carolyn Hall to domestic violence and has grown into a passion for helping those who are victims of domestic violence.

Steelers players past and present, get in the holiday spirit by giving back to the community.

Gay hosted his annual holiday dinner at the Women's Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh, a shelter that serves women and children affected by the horror that is domestic violence. He not only brought with him an amazing meal and gifts, but he brought love, compassion and the understanding that they have a bond.

"It's always good to go hang out with them, hear their stories and just talk everyday life," said Gay. "It's always important to know someone has been through the same thing or has been through what you are going through. That is a key to recovering."

Gay spent time visiting with the ladies, as well as the children who are also housed there, letting them know that he really does care.

"I believe that my mom wanted me to do this, and I will always continue to do it," said Gay.

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Tackle Kelvin Beachum has made tackling hunger a passion, working closely with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to give back in the Pittsburgh community. Beachum hosted a food distribution, providing holiday dinners for 300 families through the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ and Rodman Street Missionary Baptist Church.

Beachum was joined at his event by teammates Cam Heyward, Will Johnson, Will Allen, Arthur Moats and B.J. Finney to hand out the holiday meals.

"I am happy to be doing this," said Beachum. "It's a blessing to see these families be blessed. To have my teammates come out and support it is a big thing for me and special for me."

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Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski put on his Santa suit and along with his wife Miranda, aka Mrs. Claus, headed to area hospitals to visit patients and spread holiday cheer. Gradkowski, who also operates Pilgrimage Hospice, wanted to do something to lift the spirits of those who needed it.

"We went to the places, visited patients, handed out candy and sang Christmas carols," said Gradkowski. "I felt like it brought some good spirit and joy to facilities, where families are having a tough time. Everybody loves Christmas cheer."

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In addition to what the current players have been doing, former Steelers Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward and Charlie Batch have also been giving back in the Pittsburgh area.

Bettis hosted a toy drive through his Bus Stops Here Foundation, collecting toys that he distributed at the Salvation Army Pittsburgh Temple Worship and Service Center, helping families in that area as well as Pittsburgh's North Side.

"I think it's important for us to give back," said Bettis. "It's a season of giving. It's about giving to others. The goal was to bring smiles to the kid's faces. That is what Christmas is all about."

Ward and his wife Lindsey, who live in Georgia, visited the Salvation Army in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood, delivering gifts to needy families. Ward started the program when he was a rookie in 1998, but it has grown each year, even after he retired.  

"Being Santa Claus for me and my wife, this is the ultimate reward," said Ward. "It doesn't get any better than this because this is something these kids will cherish for the rest of their lives.

 "To see the expression on these kids faces, we have one kid over here who is crying. It just makes you feel good to have an impact and bring some happiness to these families lives, especially going through some trying times in their lives."

Batch is continuing his tradition of providing toys and gifts for those in the Homestead area through the Best of the Batch Foundation. Batch collected toys which volunteers wrapped and he will deliver to selected needy families on Christmas Eve.

"We hopefully try to put the smiles on the families' faces during this holiday time because this may be the only gifts that they get throughout the holiday," said Batch. "Whenever you go, there are times that you have to hold it together because they're crying as you're delivering these toys."

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