The Carolina Panthers are in town to face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in National Football League action on Sunday afternoon.
One Carolina star pushed competition aside for the day to lend a hand to Pinellas County's homeless population.
Panthers' Wide Receiver Steve Smith's pregame ritual is a far cry from his full-time gig on the field. He spent his Saturday in the Bay area rolling up his sleeves for the home team's less fortunate.
Smith volunteers for Samaritan's Feet, a nonprofit organization that provides foot rubs and a pair of shoes to the homeless. Saturday afternoon he took that mission to Clearwater's Metropolitan Ministries.
"This is an opportunity for me to give back, to serve," said the Panthers' All-Pro WR. "And really for me, open the next chapter of my life."
Approximately 650 pairs of shoes were distributed on Saturday. Organizers of the event say the footwear was not just a gift of comfort but a gift of hope as well.
"A lot of these people are coming from the streets. A lot are ex-military coming from overseas," explained Scott Bedrosian of Metropolitan Ministries. "You've got some young people here. You've got people who've lost jobs. They've been beat up; they're down and they're out and no one believes in them. But we do."
Since it was founded a decade ago, Samaritan's Feet has provided 4.5 million pairs of shoes to dozens of different nations' needy.
"A lot of these people don't have a lot of stuff, so they're choosing whether to provide food for their families or buy articles of clothing," added Todd Melloh with Samaritan's Feet. "So we want to come alongside them and help make those choices easier to make."
As for Smith, he plans on taking the project along with him to each National Football League city he visits this season.
Smith: "It takes the you out of it and just makes it about them."
Following Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium, Smith plans to leave his shoes in the middle of the field. A gesture the Panthers star hopes will bring more exposure to the cause.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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