For the third year, Steelers players are leading the Steelers Social Justice Grant program. Players are making donations to local organizations that are having an impact on the community, and the Steelers are matching the donations. The Steelers kicked off the 2020 Steelers Social Justice Grant program recently, and it continues today with Stephon Tuitt making a difference in the community.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in March, one of the first trickle down effects was businesses closing.
And many of those businesses that shutdown immediately were in the service industry, places like restaurants where people who were barely making ends meet before the pandemic suddenly found themselves faced with unimaginable challenges.
For those in the Latino community in Pittsburgh, they found themselves among the first impacted. Their income was suddenly lost as their places of business shut down or their hours were drastically cut back, not knowing where to turn or what to do to get through the tough times.
That is where Casa San Jose came into play.
The organization, started by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, first opened their doors in 2013 as a resource for Latino immigrants. They serve as a of base of support for the Latino community in Pittsburgh, offering a wide range of services, including education, social services and health guidance to assist them in thriving in the community.
"The main idea was to help the Latino immigrants feel welcomed, feel like they belonged and to rejoice in their culture, but also help them acclimate to the way things happen in the United States," said Sister Karen Stoila, Development and Finance Director for Casa San Jose. "We help connect them to resources, get their children in school, apply for SNAP benefits, and connect them with clinics and medical resources.
"With the situations in El Salvador and Honduras, the way things became there, we took on some issues to help open up opportunities for DACA recipients, children who came to this country at a young age. The organization has really been growing."
And it grew even more in the past year after the pandemic hit.
While the services that are at their base of operation haven't changed, they added to what they do in order to help Latino immigrants deal with the impact of the pandemic and the need grew by leaps and bounds.
"The pandemic really set us on a whirlwind path," said Sister Karen. "Many of the people have very low paying jobs. They worked as dishwashers in restaurants, or servers, or cooks, or housekeepers. When they lost their income, they sort of panicked because they had no other resources. The government wasn't trying to help them.
"We got a lot of foundation help, a lot of individual help. Throughout the summer of 2020 we helped immigrants with a small amount of cash assistance, food, PPE, sanitizing items, clothing. As a result, we have been still doing a lot of work with nutrition and giving out food. We have about 90 people who come each week to get food, and we try to get them food they actually like, things they eat, and fresh produce.
"Before the pandemic we had about 400 clients. Now we have about 1,700. It just kept spreading, word of mouth. The grant we initially had was to work with people in Allegheny County. We are finding people in Westmoreland, Beaver, Butler Counties, all the areas, so we now have a satellite office and work with churches in other areas.
"We have been a lifeline for people. We have kept them from going into deep depression and despair."
To be a lifeline, they need help though. And that is where defensive end Stephon Tuitt has come in. Through the Steelers Social Justice Grant program, a program which is led by the players in an effort to engage with various factions, including law enforcement, charitable organizations, military and more to strengthen the community at large, Tuitt is making a difference. He has donated $5,000 to Casa San Jose, with the Steelers matching the donation for a total of $10,000.
"It's the opportunity to give more than just material. It's the opportunity to see families helped during the pandemic," said Tuitt. "Everyone needs a hand, and I am just trying to lend my big hand out there to help people survive during this difficult time that we are going through. Hopefully what I was able to give, and the Steelers match, can do that for a lot of families in Pittsburgh.
"These people are like the first line of defense. When things trickle down, it's the people who do the blue-collar jobs that are the first impacted. For me to be able to attach my name to them, and know I grew up in similar situation, around hard working family members that wanted the best for our family, but we didn't have the means to provide what they wanted to do for us. A helping hand would have helped my own family overcome some things. That is why I like to do that, to have the opportunity to do that for other families.
"We are in a blessed bubble. I am doing a job of a lifetime for me. I am so blessed to do what I am doing. At the same time, I came from a situation that motivated me to make it here and I will never forget people in those tough situations. If it wasn't for my situation I went through, I wouldn't be here today.
"I personally advocate for people in higher positions to show guidance. It's not always financial, but guidance and helping somebody have an opportunity to see a way or a path to change what they might be able to do in life. Those people you helped might go back and help others in their community. That one by one ripple effect and help others in the future."
For those at Casa San Jose, having the support from Tuitt and the Steelers is something they know can only help them as they move forward.
"We were just thrilled that Stephon selected us, heard about us and his story matches what we are able to do for people who are immigrants," said Sister Karen. "He is so positive about everything. He is very humble and unassuming. The Steelers and the Rooney family have very high standards about how people should treat others and live in relation to others, and I think Stephon admires that. He also wants to live that."
Tuitt was inspired to help the organization, which he heard about through their involvement with the Notre Dame Club of Pittsburgh, because of his grandmother, Sarah Martin, who came to the United States from the West Indies.
"When you say America, it's a blend to me," said Tuitt. "It's not a certain group or a certain race. It's every race. It's every race into one. My family are immigrants. My grandmother is from the West Indies. I understand from her story what it was like making her way. When the hotel industry died where she was from, she had to make her way to America to make a life for her family. I want them to know my family were immigrants too. My grandmother doing that showed me the opportunities you have in America. Helping the Latino community is showing we are all in this together."