A Coat of Protection
Since its inception, The Salvation Army has helped victims of poverty, low social status, physical and psychological abuse, and natural or man–made disasters. Over time, this calling has inspired countless men and women from all walks of life to join forces with the Army and to help combat these evils and bring hope to the world.
Hines Ward, a legendary wide receiver for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, is such a person. He found the Army’s mission compatible with his own passionate calling to serve marginalized children. Recently, The Salvation Army honored Ward for his invaluable support of Project Bundle–Up.
“It all started with Mrs. Rooney when she introduced me to Project Bundle–Up, and the relationship never ended,” Ward said. Patricia Rooney is wife of Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, Sr., and a cofounder of Project Bundle–Up.
For the past 14 years, Ward has worked with Rooney, providing children with warm hats, coats, gloves, scarves, and boots.
Typically, kids who wear secondhand coats are often teased and bullied by other kids. Such targeting tends to lower their self–esteem and self–worth. Therefore, a new coat provides a covering of protection physically, socially, and ultimately spiritually.
Created in 1986, Project Bundle–Up is a joint community service effort of The Salvation Army and WTAE–TV Channel 4 in Pittsburgh. This unique program, utilizing over 1,000 volunteers each year, provides new winter coats, hats, scarves, mittens, and boots to thousands of underprivileged Western Pennsylvanian children and senior citizens. In 30 years, Project Bundle–Up has raised approximately $13 million and provided new winter outerwear for as many as 267,000 people.
Ward has spent the 14 seasons he’s played for the Steelers, and the years following his retirement, working with Rooney. “She is a wonderful person,” said Ward. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I’ve learned about giving back to the community.”
Ward’s ministry to children
Ward’s work with kids has reached far beyond Pittsburgh and even The Salvation Army. He has used his own life story to motivate marginalized children in the United States and in Korea.
Ward was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1976 to a Korean mother and an African–American father (they met while his dad served in the U.S. military). In addition to being biracial, Ward’s very presence was a reminder of the country’s history of foreign occupation.
When the family eventually moved to the United States, his parents divorced, which added another challenge to an already difficult life. Being now poor (his mom worked odd jobs to make ends meet), an immigrant, and from a broken home, at times overwhelmed him.
In school, Hines was teased and called every name. Life was hard. With no siblings or father in his life, he had to grow up fast. He was mistreated and rejected by kids from all sides.
A gifted athlete
Seeing his mom endure difficult work and for so many years taught him the value of such work. From as early as elementary school, Hines worked hard to develop his athletic skills. Football was a part of his life. Because he was a great athlete, people looked past his biracial appearance and saw him as an asset to the team and to the school.
Eventually, the kids treated him as a brother. He embraced football as his way to escape from the discrimination that had haunted him. Finally, he felt accepted as one of the kids.
In high school, Hines continued to play football. To this day, he is thankful to all his teachers who helped nurture his dreams and aspirations. Indeed, they helped make him the person he is today.
Instead of saying “I’m going to Disneyland,” after winning MVP honors in Super Bowl 40, Hines said, “I’m going to Korea!” His mother, on the other hand, was quite reluctant about the trip. But what they were both surprised by was the outpouring of media attention they received upon arrival at the airport. All of a sudden, people with no idea of what American football was, or who even Hines Ward was, began to purchase and wear Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys embroidered with the number “86.”
The nation that had at one time ostracized them, now celebrated them. They were treated as royalty; showered with gifts, accommodated in presidential suites, praised in print and on TV. Hines was also made an honorary citizen of Seoul. On that day, he said before the world, “… for years I was ashamed to say I was Korean. I apologize.”
Elderly Koreans applauded Hines for honoring his mother. In Korean culture, such respect for one’s mother is highly regarded. Hines used their celebrity status and notoriety to call attention to the need to love and to honor biracial children. He visited the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, which reaches out to children of such heritage. When one child asked him, “What took you so long to get here?” Hines said, “I’ve been playing football!” From that moment on, Hines realized the tremendous connection he had with children, who, heretofore, had little hope of a successful future.
The Helping Hands
So moved was Hines, that he began The Helping Hands Foundation, designed to promote racial equality around the world.
Today in Korea, years of discrimination and unspoken restrictions on people of mixed race are beginning to disappear because of Ward’s influence. Although he denies being the next Martin Luther King Jr., there’s no question Ward has indeed made a difference.
Here in the U.S., Ward continues to help The Salvation Army realize its promise to “… work towards a world where all people are accepted, loved, and valued”—International Social Justice Commission (ISJC).
by Warren L. Maye
The mission of Project Bundle–Up is to raise funds to provide all new warm winter outerwear (coats, hats, gloves, and boots) for children and senior citizens from low–income households throughout Western Pennsylvania. Through the program, children from birth to age 18 are provided up to $75 for new outerwear items, while seniors aged 62 years and older typically receive $100 for the purchase of such apparel. Project Bundle–Up provides assistance to an individual once every two years so as to reach more people in need each season. Project Bundle–Up provides funding to nearly 6,000 individuals annually; however, many have to be turned away and added to a waiting list until more funds become available.
The need for Project Bundle–Up:
Western Pennsylvania winters can have devastating effects on working low–income households. Purchasing essential winter outerwear can present a challenge for families with growing children and seniors living on a fixed income, particularly when increases in heating costs tend to become a priority. As a result, many kids and seniors go without the essential warm winter gear that is needed.
DONATE TODAY projectbundleup.org/donate