SEATTLE (CHRISTIAN EXAMINER)—As Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas III prepares for what's expected to be one of the coldest National Football League playoff games in history in Minneapolis on Sunday, he's helping to make sure the homeless in Seattle get relief from freezing nights this winter.
Thomas has donated more than $15,000 in matching funds to the Seattle Union Gospel Mission (UGM) to help the Christian ministry purchase blankets for the city's homeless population.
And he's challenging Seahawks fans—and anyone else who cares about the city's homeless—to match his gift in order to meet this urgent need.
"My family lost everything after Hurricane Rita, so I know what it's like to go without," Thomas said. "That's why it's so important to me to give back to others and to help those who are less fortunate get back on their feet."
According to Seattle UGM president Jeff Lilley, Thomas has been involved with the organization since around Christmas 2014 when he began helping out with a UGM youth ministry in the White Center area of metro Seattle. Lilley appreciates that Thomas is the kind of man who doesn't just give his money but gives his time as well.
Lilley says UGM had found itself in a tough situation because its normal blanket supplier had sold out so the organization was left to get blankets at higher prices, which they couldn't sustain at the levels needed. He says UGM has been short of blankets for several weeks now.
When Thomas heard about the need, Lilley says, he wanted to help. The matching fund seemed like an ideal way to meet the need.
Maybe part of the reason Thomas pays special attention to the down-and-out of the community is that he's seen his share of hard times. For example, the NFL stardom of Thomas, who has made the Pro Bowl in five of his six NFL seasons, almost never happened according to his website. His mother was told in 1987 that she'd never be able to have children because of a cervical cancer diagnosis.
Given only six months to live, she was told she needed a hysterectomy and the removal of her lymph nodes in order to survive. With the procedures already scheduled, she had one last cancer test, which showed the cancer was gone. Born a couple of years after the diagnosis, Thomas says his mother still calls him her "miracle baby."
His grandfather, Earl Thomas I, started a church in Thomas' hometown of Orange, Texas. The star athlete was a fixture at the church growing up, playing in the church band. Thomas says the church's motto has always stuck with him: "The church where everybody is somebody."
As a junior in high school, Thomas' family lost everything they owned in Hurricane Rita. Both his house and his grandfather's church were destroyed. The family had to share a single room in a local Super Eight for months while his grandparents stayed two doors down.
Instead of breaking Thomas, adversity has only served to mobilize him as not only a star football player but as someone who gives back to the community.
"My mindset is the key to my success," said Thomas in an article on ESPN.com. "It's the way I attack the game and the way I look at things in life. God gave me all this ability, so I want to capitalize on it. I have a clear vision of who I want to be, and that's what I'm striving for every day."
Thomas' commitment to give back to the neighboring community impresses Lilley. The NFL superstar doesn't just give his money to nonprofits like UGM; he gives his heart and soul as well, says Lilley, noting his volunteer work with youth in White Center.
"When you meet someone like Earl, you see someone who is incredibly fast, incredibly smart—and he's incredibly committed to the game," Lilley said. "He has to work very, very hard to do that, but what I love about Earl is that he doesn't just say it's all about the game. Even though he has to commit to continue to play at that level, he also takes what the Lord has blessed him with and realizes he has to give back."
The donation for blankets will provide a big need for UGM. Lilley says Seattle has one of the highest numbers of homeless people in the United States. During this time of year, he adds, the homeless in Seattle are in a life-and-death struggle as they're exposed to the elements.
UGM sends out "search and rescue" vans searching for homeless residents in particularly vulnerable situations. When volunteer teams spot them, they provide hats, gloves, jackets, sandwiches, blankets, socks and other supplies. Most importantly, Lilley says, they send out to the homeless, "people to love on them and bring relationship to them." Because both blankets and socks often get cold and wet and don't last long on the street, they are the most coveted items UGM provides.
"We're still in desperate need of blankets," Lilley said. "We're still in a shortfall situation. The match is still there. If people want to give to this need, it's a real issue. This isn't one of those marketing things that says, 'Hey, can we get some donations here?' We're passing out the blankets as fast as they come in."
To have your gift to Seattle's Union Gospel Mission doubled through this matching offer by Thomas, click here.
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