By Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter
The American-born Penguins players each have their own Thanksgiving traditions, all centered around a warm meal shared with family and friends.
They know how fortunate they are to be able to have tables full of food, so it meant a lot to them to be able to serve a Thanksgiving meal to residents at the Rainbow Kitchen in Homestead on Monday.
"It's awesome to give back," winger Conor Sheary said. "It's really unfortunate that you hear about families like that who can't maybe afford it or get their whole family together to have that meal. For us to do this little thing and just serve them some turkey and a good warm meal, I think it's great for the community and it really feels good to give back."
From there, the players split up duties in what was the definition of teamwork. Ruhwedel served soft drinks, while Cole volunteered to hand out desserts, saying that it was "right up his alley." Rust said that he and Sheary would be the "runners," delivering meals to the patrons.
Those meals were served up by Kessel and Guentzel, who were hard at work behind the line loading up plates for Rust and Sheary to take out.
Guentzel was spooning out mashed potatoes, ladling gravy onto them and then adding turkey before handing the portioned Styrofoam box to Kessel, who scooped out stuffing, green beans and yams. It was an important job, and one that Rust said they got the hang of eventually.
"I think they started off maybe a little rocky, but they were really good at the end," Rust said. Kessel, looking on, interjected with a laugh, "I think we were pretty good."
"It took a while, but once we figured it out, I think it was smooth," Guentzel joked. "He did a good job and we had a good little thing going."
"They were serving up some good plates and they were quick about it, so I don't think there could have been two better guys in the league to do it," Rust laughed.
The banter between the boys and the people that they served had everybody feeling good.
"It was fun, we sparked up a few conversations with some lively people," Rust said. "Everyone was really gracious and really polite, so it was good to put some smiles on people's faces and I think it put some smiles on ours, too."
In years past, the Penguins had teamed up with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for their annual Turkey Delivery, where they would help families in the Hill District prepare for Thanksgiving dinner by sending them home with a turkey and a box filled with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and dessert.
This year, the Penguins decided to switch it up and work with Rainbow Kitchen, which provides a vital safety net for hungry children, struggling families, low-income elderly, disabled individuals and Homestead residents who are homeless or unemployed.
"We're really thrilled to have the Penguins here today," said Donna Little, executive director of Rainbow Kitchen. "It's a really good opportunity to help get people's attention and raise awareness, especially at this time of year, about what a challenge it is for low-income families to have a nice holiday season.
"People sit down to their Thanksgiving meal and have a great table full of food and enjoy it, and a lot of times aren't even aware that people can't afford to do that. So by doing this today, because it's the Penguins doing it, people will really pay attention and be aware of it and that really helps us. It helps us in terms of the meal that they're serving but also in terms of the fact that because the Penguins are so honored and respected in Pittsburgh, people will take note of what they're doing and will maybe move them to help as well."
Little also said that having the players stop in had everyone there excited, and that it had lifted their spirits.
"I didn't even know they were going to be here, so this is really a surprise," said Kathleen Correll, who has since moved from Homestead but comes back once in a while for a meal, saying that Rainbow Kitchen always welcomes everybody.
"It's a great surprise. I didn't even know. This is beautiful, though. I had heard about this but I didn't know that they were going to be here. It just shows that they are really into Pittsburgh and all the surrounding areas. Not just the city. It's about the community. And that's good."