Sports Spectrum Magazine Summer 2021

Tight end Vance McDonald honored by Steelers for selfless work with Convoy of Hope

The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been one of the most respected organizations in the NFL. Their six Super Bowl wins (tied only with New England) and consistent on-field success (11-1 this season) are a large reason for that — and why they’ve had only three head coaches since 1969.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

That consistency stems from ownership, as the Rooney family has led the Steelers since the team’s inception in 1933. Art Rooney founded the team and served as owner until his death in 1988, at which point ownership transferred to his oldest son, Dan Rooney. Upon his death in 2017, operations were handed over to his son and current team president, Art Rooney II.

All along, the Rooneys have established three key values within the organization: Faith, family, football.

Those values were apparent earlier this week as the Steelers teamed with Convoy of Hope for their second annual “Huddle for the Holidays” event. Together, the organizations served 1,000 families in the Pittsburgh area by providing resources and supplies such as prepackaged groceries, winter clothes, water, masks, hand sanitizer, Chick-fil-A coupons, toys and books. They were assisted by donations and support from partners like United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Embrace Pittsburgh, Pepsi and Giant Eagle.

The Steelers and Convoy — a faith-based organization with a driving passion to feed the world — also teamed up over the summer to provide more than 250,000 pounds of food and supplies to those in need. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and tight end Vance McDonald have been huge advocates for Convoy, especially this year when the nonprofit has distributed more than 150 million meals in response to COVID-19.

But the connection between Convoy and the Steelers was made by McDonald, who first began working with Convoy when he was with the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He spent four years there before a trade sent him to Pittsburgh.

It was announced Thursday that McDonald is the Steelers’ nominee for the 2020 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service, as well as his playing excellence. Much of his service has been with Convoy, which shares his faith-based values.

“Convoy of Hope just lays it out to help other people,” McDonald told Steelers.com. “It’s an honor to be a partner with them. I love the humility they bring to everything. Every person that walks through the door, they call them ‘guests of honor,’ that is how they view them and that is how they want to send them off, to show them how much they mean to them and they are people that matter. Every person they are serving, No. 1, it’s ‘I want to show you how much of a prized possession you are, not only to me, but in the eyes of God.'”

A lot of the work McDonald does with Convoy is done side by side with his wife, Kendi.

“It’s scary times for everybody,” Kendi said. “The uncertainty and constant feeling of what is going to happen next, is it going to get better, are jobs going to come back? Convoy of Hope is extending that hope. We are not sure what tomorrow is going to be, but here is hope for this week, this month. There is still hope going on and God is still with us in the midst of this uncertainty.”

The McDonalds’ heart to serve will soon extend to pastors and other ministry leaders. They recently purchased a 130-acre farm in Ligonier Township, about an hour east of Pittsburgh. They plan for it to be a place to raise their three children, but also use it as a resort of sorts, a place spiritual leaders can visit for rest and rejuvenation.

“We are setting out to help Pittsburgh by helping out its leaders and people who just pour out their energy, efforts and lives into fortifying others, picking up others and serving others,” McDonald told Steelers.com. “We are reserving the place for a sanctuary and a place of respite for those leaders. We will host them, allow them to stay and enjoy some beautiful scenery so they can get away from their jobs and be able to refill so whenever they go back, they will be able to pour into others.

“We’ll be doing church leaders, pastors, and people in leadership positions of churches in the Pittsburgh area. Also, people in non-profits who are almost competing against each other, but they all set out to do the same thing and that is serve other people and make a difference. We have come to love Pittsburgh and we hate to see people set out to do great things and just get burnt out because there is no rest. We want to provide a place for those people who have these incredible missions and all of their efforts and energy go into helping other people and serving other people.”

McDonald has already provided one huge assist to a Pittsburgh pastor. When the Steelers were looking for a team chaplain to pour into their players two years ago, McDonald suggested the pastor at his church. After meeting with Coach Mike Tomlin and others, Kent Chevalier got the job, and is more than grateful to McDonald.

“Pittsburgh-born and lived here my entire life, done ministry here my entire 23 years,” Chevalier recently told Sports Spectrum. “So it’s crazy that essentially the team that I grew up watching and love, I get to now spiritually lead these guys. What a privilege.”

One of those he leads is McDonald, whose faith in Christ compels him to love and serve others, whether he gets an award for it or not.

RELATED STORIES: 
Steelers’ Vance McDonald pledges $30,000 to victims of Tropical Storm Imelda
MAGAZINE: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is Stepping Up in Faith
NEW PODCAST: Kent Chevalier – Pittsburgh Steelers Team Chaplain
Grounded in faith, Ravens’ Harbaugh & Steelers’ Tomlin set to make NFL history
Ben Roethlisberger is throwing without pain, strives to be better Christian than athlete