The holiday season is a time when those who are struggling to make ends meet often find themselves unable to enjoy the simple pleasure of a family Thanksgiving dinner, but thanks to the efforts of Steelers players, that won’t be the case for some.
Seeing the need that exists has motivated LaMarr Woodley, Max Starks, Ryan Mundy and Cortez Allen to step up and give back at a time of year when the need is strong.
Woodley teamed with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to bring his message of thanks to families in Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood, giving them the joy of having Thanksgiving dinner without having to worry about stretching the budget to do so. Woodley, who was joined by Charlie Batch, James Harrison, Stevenson Sylvester and Kelvin Beachum, distributed turkeys, stuffing, potatoes and all the makings for dinner to some happy recipients.
“The most important thing is to help out others,” said Woodley, who pays for all of the items. “Some people are not fortunate enough to be able to go out and buy things for themselves for Thanksgiving. Some are scraping up money to buy what they can and we want to help cut costs during times like this when the economy is bad. I am in a fortunate situation where I can help people and give back and that is what I want to do.”
As people made their way through the line, they shook hands with the players, thanked them and in some cases even gave them hugs.
“I am from here and any time I can come out and support the community and what a teammate is doing, I will do that,” said Batch. “This is always a great time of year, the holiday season, to give back. You never know what people are going through. When you can come here and put a smile on their face that is what it is all about.”
Woodley also gave back to his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, donating 500 gift baskets with household supplies and basic needs to families through the LaMarr Woodley Foundation. The gift baskets were distributed at the Civitan Recreation Center, and included items such as laundry and dish detergent, paper towels and napkins, trash bags and more.
“Saginaw is not as big as Pittsburgh and there are some turkey drives so we cover something different,” said Woodley. “We want to help them cut costs on things, things you need during the holidays but are not always included with the food giveaways.”
Starks also worked with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, hosting the annual Max Starks & His Home Team Thanksgiving Celebration, providing all of the makings for Thanksgiving dinner for 300 families, while Giant Eagle also lent a helping hand, providing store gift cards for them as well.
“This shows the reality of hunger issues in the United States,” said Starks. “It is a real issue. We talk about a lot of worldwide issues, but there are issues at home we have to take care of. Even though this is a little bit, at least it gives them a brighter Thanksgiving, the families we are helping. I really enjoy this.
“When you look back on things you’ve done in life, to say you are able to help somebody who can never repay you is the ultimate honor when you are in service. It’s a cool feeling to give back and hopefully people will look at this and want to do similar things in their communities.”
Starks and teammates Maurkice Pouncey, John Malecki, Ryan Lee, Drew Butler, Chris Rainey, Greg Warren, Beachum and Batch, handed out the items to the families, and you could instantly see what it meant to them to have the players on hand helping.
“These families don’t get to be made to feel special very often,” said Anne Hawkins, chief development officer for the food bank. “There is a lot of prejudice against poor people. For them to be able to get their Thanksgiving dinner handed to them by a Steelers player they respect it’s exciting and just seeing the kids smile you can’t help but think this is what Thanksgiving should be.”
The food bank serves 11 counties in the Western Pennsylvania area and their numbers have significantly increased every month since 2008, with more than 2,500 new families being served per month.
“People who are going back to work are not taking jobs at the level they were,” said Hawkins. “It’s hard to watch. It continues to smack you in the face that this is reality for so many people. The biggest growing groups of people we are helping are the working poor. They are going to work and doing what they are supposed to be doing, but the minimum wage is so low and the cost of living so high. People can’t make it though the month.
“This country is a great country and we should make sure everybody can eat. That is a basic human need.”
Mundy partnered with UPMC’s Dignity and Respect Campaign for “Turkey and All the Trimmings,” distributing all of the essentials for Thanksgiving dinner to families through the Rankin Christian Center, close to where Mundy grew up.
“Times are tough for a lot of people across the country,” said Mundy. “Anything we can do to make things easier, even for a day, it’s important.”
The Dignity & Respect Campaign offers different tips, with lending a hand being the one that Mundy implemented through the turkey giveaway.
“I have been fortunate to be a part of this organization for five years and living out my dream in front of family and friends,” said Mundy. “It’s important I give back to the community. I accomplished my dreams being from the same city. I want to inspire people to do the right thing and make the right choices.
“It’s always important to give back, especially when you are so blessed and in a position to live out your dreams. You want to help people accomplish their dreams and move forward in life.”
While Allen wasn’t able to head home to Ocala, Florida to participate in his good will, he did his part for his hometown by purchasing grocery store gift cards that were distributed through the Green Pastures Worship Center, the church he attended.
“I wanted it to be a blessing for some families, those who are less fortunate and wouldn’t be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner without it,” said Allen. “I wanted to do something to help out.”
The gift cards allowed families the ability to purchase a turkey and all of the trimmings so they can enjoy the holiday the way that it should be enjoyed.
“I have a large support group there,” said Allen. “I think I am the only player in the league from there and I just wanted to show support for them the way they do for me. I want to do what I can to help out.