Paying it forward: Mathieu draws on upbringing to make a difference

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

For Tyrann Mathieu, it’s easy to separate football from philanthropy.

“We put a lot into football,” Mathieu recently said with a turkey in one hand and a pen for autographs in the other.

“It’s a big part of my life, but we try and separate the two, and obviously times like these make you more grateful, and they make you more understanding.”

Mathieu, in the midst of a trying season with the Arizona Cardinals, found time this holiday season to make a difference. The former pro-bowl safety spearheaded, financed and distributed over 200 turkeys to those in need at Stevenson Elementary School in Mesa.

“It’s heartwarming,” said Mathieu. “Obviously we all come from different backgrounds, but all of our lives were very hard at some point. I just try and keep a smile on my face and let them know it’s okay to keep a smile on theirs. I just want to be a great resource for them and hopefully they can enjoy this Thanksgiving meal.”

Mathieu started working with the United Food Bank in 2016. It’s a relationship that began because Mathieu reached out asking how he could help.

"They would not have turkeys [without him]. They would not have the opportunity to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” said Twanna Anderson of the United Food Bank.

“The generosity he’s shown is amazing. It’s going to impact families the rest of the school year – not just Thanksgiving. We love him.”

Mathieu’s desire to pay it forward stems from a childhood that taught him the true meaning of kindness. Born to an incarcerated father and absentee mother, Mathieu was initially raised by his grandmother. When he was 5 years old, Mathieu experienced an indelible act of selflessness that still impacts him today. His aunt and uncle, Shelia and Tyrone Mathieu, took young Tyrann into their home and raised him under the same roof as his three cousins.

“I had a rough life for the most part,” Mathieu recalled. “But I had a lot of people in my life who were very selfless. They always put me first and I think that’s ultimately why I am in the position I am today so I just want to give back.”

Shelia and Tyrone Mathieu adopted Tyrann in 1997. Tyrann said being adopted by his aunt and uncle was a moment that changed his life forever.

"It obviously was a blessing to be able to see two different sides of the scale," Mathieu told ESPN.com in 2012. "They definitely helped me out a lot and definitely took me out of a rough situation. I commend them for doing that for me and truly thank them."

And now Mathieu makes the effort to do anything and everything he can for those in need.  Family always comes first for Tyrann Mathieu and now over 200 Valley families are having Thanksgiving dinner Thursday night because of his passion and generosity.

“I grew up in a big family,” Mathieu said. “I’ve always had that caregiver attitude. My grandmother was a caregiver and I think her traits stuck with me. It’s a blessing and an opportunity for me to use my platform to be a benefit to a lot of families.”

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