There is nothing that brings a smile to a kids face like toys at Christmas and Hines Ward was not about to let children at the Salvation Army's Family Caring Center go without that simple joy this year.
Ward made a sizable donation to the Salvation Army to provide gifts for the kids, whose families live there during a time of transition in their lives.
"Seeing those kids' faces, that is the best," said Ward. "That's what it's all about, going to the Salvation Army to help them do something positive. It makes you feel good on the inside and hopefully this will be a Christmas they'll never forget."
The families were all gathered for a Christmas party, singing carols and having fun, when Ward surprised them.
"It was so exciting for them," said the Salvation Army's Major Mark S. Mackneer. "The mouths of the children just dropped, they were so excited. It means a lot because the parents know that someone cares enough about them to spend the time and to provide the gifts. They were so grateful, so excited. And Hines is just so down to earth when it comes to those kinds of events, he's right there with the children, he helps them out. He was playing with their toys and those kinds of things and it was phenomenal just to see the interaction between him and all the children."
Most of those staying at the Family Center are single mothers who currently have no place to call home, but there are also full families, including one that was staying there with their six children.
"It absolutely made a big difference and it's nice that Hines does this for us," said Mackneer. "We have a great relationship. We keep it as low-key as possible so there's not a lot of to do about it. It's just the children and their parents."
Ward does have a long-term relationship with the Salvation Army as a constant participant in Project Bundle-Up and hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for residents of their centers in the past.
"I'm very blessed," said Ward. "For me, all the years that I've been here in Pittsburgh, something that truly means something to me is being able to give back to a community that has given me so much. To go out and help others who are less fortunate makes me feel good on the inside. I try to put things in perspective. Regardless of the good life that I've had, there are always people out there who are struggling and going through some hard times.
"I just couldn't imagine as a kid growing up and not having toys as a kid. That's what Christmas is all about. So to see those families and to see the expression on the kids' faces when they opened their gifts…it's just really getting into the spirit of Christmas."