Hines Ward's trademark smile was as wide as ever when he thought back to the fun times he had as a Steelers' player taking part in the team's annual Salvation Army Project Bundle-Up shopping night.
It was a chance to interact with local kids, and provide for them winter outerwear that they otherwise would be without in the cold winter months in Pittsburgh.
"I would take pictures with the kids, let them walk down aisles in the store like they were walking down the runway in their stuff," recalled Ward. "I wanted to make them feel special. That humbles you and you hope they remember it for the rest of their lives. I know I do. I still have some of the pictures. I had a great appreciation for giving back to the kids and making them feel special.
"To be in the position to do that, a lot of that was taught from the top and that is what makes the Steelers' organization so special."
Ward credits Patricia Rooney, the wife of late Steelers' chairman Dan Rooney and the co-founder of Project Bundle-Up, for starting his relationship with the Salvation Army of Allegheny County, one that continues to this day.
And on Wednesday night, Ward and his wife Lindsey were honored with the "Others Award," at the Salvation Army's 'Doing the Most Good' Annual Dinner at Heinz Field.
The 'Others Award' is presented in recognition of unique and meritorious local service to the Salvation Army, and is one of the highest forms of recognition given by the agency.
"We are honored to receive the award and be recognized by Salvation Army and helping the things they do," said Ward. "It makes you feel good and it all started with Mrs. Rooney when she introduced me to Project Bundle-Up and the relationship never ended."
Ward's relationship with the Salvation Army began, as he said, when he was a rookie taking part in Project Bundle-Up. It has spanned the 14 seasons he played for the Steelers, and a total of 20 years encompassing the time since his retirement.
"It was something when I first got to the Steelers I wanted to give back to the community," said Ward. "Mrs. Rooney, she is a wonderful person and introduced all of the players to the Salvation Army. Doing Project Bundle-Up with the kids, I enjoyed every moment of it. It taught me about giving back to the community, what we mean to our city.
"Since that day I had a connection with the Salvation Army. They do wonderful work in our city."
Ward wanted to expand on what he did for the Salvation Army, so during his playing days he hosted a Thanksgiving Dinner at a restaurant he owned during that time on the South Side. After his retirement, he and Lindsey began to do a Christmas gift distribution at the Salvation Army Women's Shelter in Pittsburgh, a new avenue to give back.
"We do a gift distribution to single moms going through a hard time and spending Christmas in the shelter," said Ward. "It hits home for me because I knew how hard my mom worked. My mom would have to work on Christmas Day. It just makes me feel good and I still have a presence in Pittsburgh. It's something I look forward to every year."
Ward lives in Atlanta, but still owns Hines Ward's Table 86 in the Pittsburgh area, and he wants to remain a key part of the community.
"I spent 14 great years here," said Ward. "A part of me is connected to the city forever. I will always appreciate it. I always love coming back and have a passion for what the city means and what the Steelers organization means to the city. I always try to be a great representative of the city. I still wear the hat with the 'P' on it. Pittsburgh is home away from home. Still being able to impact the community here is a great feeling."