For linebacker T.J. Watt, helping to fight hunger in the Pittsburgh area is something he has a passion for.
And it's not just something that was born out of seeing the need increase during the pandemic, but rather something he has committed himself to over the last few years.
Watt was back showing that commitment when he once again teamed with 412 Food Rescue to deliver food to families in the Pittsburgh region who are food insecure.
"It's very unfortunate that a lot of people have been put into hard situations and times," said Watt. "That's why it's always important for me to do a reality check to make sure I never lose sight of any of this. Pittsburgh is in this together as a community. I want people to know I am committed to helping as much as I can. It's not just throwing a dollar amount out there. It's also getting out in the community and showing people I truly care."
Watt began working with the agency in 2019 but wasn't able to make in person deliveries last year because of the pandemic. He continued to work with them through monetary donations to help with food distributions but missed the interaction. Returning to making the deliveries is something that has touched his heart.
Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt helped deliver food to families through 412 Food Rescue
"It's super important to be out in the community and give back to people less fortunate," said Watt. "It was hard with Covid to not be able to get out and do my normal rounds in the community, especially with 412 Food Rescue. I just want to keep encouraging people if they can to donate and give us much as they can, whether it's a monetary value or helping by volunteering their time."
Watt chose to team with 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh based organization that was founded as a response to the disconnect between food waste, hunger and environmental sustainability, because he knows the importance of having proper nutrition, of not having to worry about where your next meal is coming from.
The organization works with local distributors and mom and pop stores, chain restaurants to urban farms, to provide to those who are food insecure. Normally the organization has worked only with local nonprofits, getting the food to them and they distributed it from there. In 2020 they expanded that to include a home delivery service to help elderly and at-risk residents who couldn't get out during the pandemic.
"I think a lot of people don't see, it's not as visible with drive up distributions," said Sara Swaney, Vice President of Advancement and Engagement for 412 Food Rescue. "Last year we distributed double what we typically deliver in a given year. And we are still on track to surpass what we distributed in 2019 before Covid even happened."
Watt helped with the home delivery program, first visiting Hilltop Urban Farm and learning about their program to help those in need, and then hitting the road with bins of healthy items for the families he delivered to.
"It was so special to get out to the farm and see where all of the vegetables come from, and all of the volunteers putting in so many hours of work," said Watt. "Then to deliver the end product to a home and hear about the lasagna and the vegetable soup (they were going to make). Just to see the full circle process is pretty special."
The other thing that was special was seeing the reaction from the families. The smiles were huge, the excitement of getting the delivery from Watt something that surprised him.
"It's incredible. I am just shocked they are excited to see me and not just the vegetables," said Watt, who spent time talking the families, even offering some football tips to kids. "I would be excited to see the food because it means some home cooking is coming. With Covid you couldn't get out and see all of the fans in the community. Just driving around the South Side with the windows down, people saying nice things as you drive by. I really miss it and am excited to get back in the community."