PITTSBURGH -- Greg Brown carefully walked down the sidewalk, snow piling up around him, arms full of gifts wrapped in red and green. He took boxes handed to him by members of the Pirates’ communications department, scaled a few steps and stacked presents around the front door of a McKeesport home. Every few steps, the Pirates play-by-play broadcaster would belt out a “Ho ho ho!” with the same enthusiasm he’d shout to “Clear the deck!” after a Pittsburgh home run.
Eventually, Brown got his wish: There were so many boxes, bins and garment bags around him, it seemed like it would be difficult to even swing the door open. He picked up a stack of presents, knocked and let Aurelia Malloy see all the holiday gifts the Pirates brought for her and the six children inside.
They spent nearly 10 minutes digging through gifts on Wednesday afternoon: a copy of Michelle Obama’s autobiography for 14-year-old Aniya, Legos for 5-year-old Jeshia, construction paper and art supplies for 8-year-old Tatiana, “Paw Patrol” toys for jubilant 3-year-old Angelia and so much more. Across the street, one of their neighbors stepped onto her patio and cheered, saying she was nearly in tears because she was so happy for Malloy and her family.
“With everything that’s been going on and being locked down with COVID, I didn’t expect this. I’m very grateful. I know they’re grateful,” Malloy said, pointing to her children. “This is some stuff I probably wouldn’t have been able to do on my own, and I know that we’re blessed. I truly appreciate it.”
This was the essence of Pirates Charities’ “Ultimate Holiday Experience” campaign: to provide gifts and holiday cheer for families in need of both at the end of an especially difficult year. The Pirates partnered with local non-profits -- such as Propel Schools, Pittsburgh RBI, the Josh Gibson Foundation and the Veterans Leadership Project -- to select 13 families in Pittsburgh, Bradenton, Fla., and the Dominican Republic. Each department within Pittsburgh’s front office staff adopted a family, personally shopped for items from a family’s wish list and delivered those gifts last week.
Members of the Pirates front office added to the toys, gifts and books by purchasing outerwear and cold-weather accessories from Macy’s as part of the delivery. Each family also received a $100 gift card to purchase food for a holiday meal and tickets to a 2021 Pirates or Bradenton Marauders game.
“We’re happy to be able to be a part of this today and to provide to those who don’t have as much during this holiday season,” club president Travis Williams said. “I’ve said that from Day 1: This is what Pittsburghers do. We come together and help those who are in need. Especially in a year like 2020. It’s been a difficult one for everybody, but we’re really proud to be able to come together … and it’s been a great season of giving.”
Each department spent weeks planning and purchasing gifts on their own, using funds provided by Pirates Charities. Brown said his group held Zoom calls to discuss their ideas while they shopped. General manager Ben Cherington said his baseball operations group divvied up the shopping and enjoyed the bonding experience of selecting gifts that would mean something to Shelia Barfield and her grandchildren, Maya and Skylar.
Cherington, assistant GM Steve Sanders, amateur scouting director Joe DelliCarri and baseball operations assistant Trey Rose met up with Sean Gibson, executive director of the Josh Gibson Foundation, on Thursday afternoon in Wilkinsburg to deliver a couple carfuls of gifts. The kids immediately put on their new winter hats and gloves and dug through a bin of presents.
“Seeing the look on those two girls’ faces and grandma’s -- it was a no-brainer to do it, but when you actually see the looks on their faces, it hits home,” Cherington said. “Hopefully it makes a small difference for them in the next few days and makes their holidays a little brighter.”
“To see the smile and the joy on these kids’ faces, it’s amazing,” Gibson added. “I was amazed at the stuff they gave the kids and families, a lot of great toys. It’s giving back. This is the time of year to give back. A lot of people have been laid off. A lot of people have lost jobs. Times are hard right now -- and times are always hard, anyway, but during this pandemic year, it’s important to make sure these families are happy during Christmas.”
The idea behind the initiative was to encourage every employee to get involved and feel connected to what they were doing, and doing the shopping themselves certainly made it feel more personal. Pirates manager of community outreach Joel Gray proudly said he “got the flyest coat out there” for his department’s family. Meanwhile, Williams sought needed input from his wife, Nikki, because he joked that all the coats he picked would be black and gray or, better yet, black and gold.
“We really worked hard to get what we thought each kid would want. That was really cool,” Brown said. “It’s an old cliché, but it does feel better to give than it does to receive.”
While her kids played and continued opening presents just inside the door, Malloy stepped down her front steps out into the snowstorm that swept through Pennsylvania on Wednesday afternoon. She put on her new Pirates mask, thanked the team and Propel Schools for their generosity and expressed her appreciation for the teachers who have done their best while working remotely with her children this year.
“I’m grateful what the Pirates did for my family today. It was very, very heartfelt,” she said. “I know my children will enjoy it and we’re definitely going to have a merry Christmas. Hopefully 2021 will be a lot better.”
Malloy paused, smiling as the storm poured down and piled up around her. It was Dec. 16, but it looked and felt a lot like Christmas.
“We sure did pick a day, huh?” she said, laughing. “Let it snow! This is beautiful!”