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Grilli intends to help strike out hunger in Pittsburgh

Bucs closer, wife volunteer at community food bank to help those in need

Special to

Jason Grilli was born in suburban Detroit, he went to high school in the Syracuse, N.Y.-area, and technically he makes his off-season home in Orlando, Fla. That's technically because he did spend a great deal of time in Pittsburgh this past winter.

The Pirates' All-Star closer loves his adopted home and has expressed a desire to become more involved in the local community. One of the ways he's doing that is via his budding relationship with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Feeding America -- the nation's leading hunger- relief organization.

On Wednesday morning, Grilli toured the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's facility in Duquesne, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh. During his two-hour visit, he also spoke to a group of families in need before donning an apron and helping to cook and serve grilled cheese sandwiches, along with his wife Danielle. That last part was a natural for a man whose nickname is Grilled Cheese and Twitter handle is @GrillCheese49.

"For a community that has given me so much -- me and my family -- and shown how much you love the Pirates and make sports an integral part of your daily lives, it was so easy to try and find a way to give back to you," Grilli told the crowd of approximately 150 people just before lunch. "I like striking people out, but to be able to help strike out hunger is something that has been near and dear to my heart for a long time."

Grilli was on hand to help draw attention to the fact that food is insecure for as many one in seven people in the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's service area, which includes 11 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. He was also there to help recognize Land O' Lakes Inc. for its massive contribution of 40,000 pounds of cheese.

"This is a lot of cheese. This will help make a lot of families happy," Grilli said during his trip through the warehouse where it is being stored.

Lisa Scales, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's chief executive officer, is still getting to know Grilli. But she's already been taken in with his infectious personality and she loves the fact that he wants to help her organization achieve its mission.

"We couldn't ask for a better spokesperson than Jason Grilli," Scales said. "It's been so great getting to know him. He has a big arm, but he has an even bigger heart. He really cares deeply about this issue. He knows how important it is for kids to have enough to eat, and that food is an essential building block for their future. He's using his nickname -- Grilled Cheese -- as a way to raise awareness about this serious problem."

"I get a little choked up just knowing I played a small part in something like this, syncing up with all these great people, and I hope to be able to raise awareness even more," Grilli said. "It's not just because I'm a baseball player that I can do this. This isn't about me or the Pittsburgh Pirates. Anybody can do this and help out. It's about the community and how we can help each other.

"These people need basic things. To see them have a square meal, I don't think you can put into words how important that is. There are many causes out there that are justifiable. But having the Grilled Cheese nickname, I started to think, 'How can I use this for good?' And this is one of the ways."

Jim Lachimia is a contributor to

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jason Grilli