Images of the Cardinals cornerback serving dinners to 221 families in need on Tuesday at Fees Prep Elementary School in Tempe
Patrick Peterson looked down quizzically for a moment, contemplating how to balance the turkey on top of the non-perishables in the woman's hands.
As the fowl still hovered, Peterson realized he had a bigger issue.
"Wait," the Cardinals cornerback said. "Are you alone?"
For the majority of the underprivileged guests at Peterson's Thanksgiving giveaway on Tuesday at Fees Prep Elementary School in Tempe, the exercise was straightforward. They walked through a line full of food and football players, sneaking pictures and autographs from the Cardinals while loading up a free meal that would make Thanksgiving possible.
Families of three or four could carry all of the food, but there was no way a single mom could handle it. So Peterson took matters into his own hands as the grateful woman watched, hoisting multiple bags on his shoulders before heading for the school cafeteria exit.
"I'll help you," he said.
It's hard to measure Peterson's worth on the field, because his job as a shutdown cornerback means quarterbacks rarely allow him to be involved in the action. It's the opposite in the community.
This was Peterson's first Thanksgiving-oriented event, but it's the latest in his dedication to improving the lives of needy families and children through his "Foundation for Success." Peterson bankrolls a shopping spree every year before Christmas and has placed multiple "Patrick's Corner" libraries in the inner city to promote education for at-risk youth.
"I always promised myself that when I was able to get here, I wanted to make sure I gave a better outlook on other lives," Peterson said.
Peterson wasn't the only player making sure underprivileged families had a hearty Thanksgiving meal to enjoy. A week earlier, safety Tyrann Mathieu ventured to Mesa to host a similar event at Stevenson Elementary.
Hundreds of families made their way through the line, and Mathieu also broadened his focus, partnering with United Food Bank to provide 95 students with backpacks full of food to take home each weekend through the end of the school year.
His hope is two-fold: That the families have a joyous Thanksgiving, and that the money they save by not buying food can result in gifts for the children at Christmas.
"I look back on my holidays with my family," Mathieu said. "It was always a time of a lot of laughter, a lot of joy. It wasn't about stress. It wasn't about worrying about how to pay bills. It was just enjoying your family time. Hopefully I can be a resource for these families to do the same."
Mathieu and Peterson are both fathers. Their salaries allow them to easily support their children, but they are also focused on helping other kids. It's why Peterson didn't think twice about temporarily abandoning his post as the star of his event to become a bag boy, while his young daughter, Paityn, watched from a few feet away.
"Ever since I became a father, it was eye-opening," Peterson said. "It made my foundation worth that much more while. I put the same passion and love as I do with my kid when we're reading our bedtime stories, or life lessons, whatever it is. I try to do that in the community to help them make better decisions or to try to make their lives better."
The first time Peterson and Mathieu met, they were precocious young talents with NFL dreams. While many players get sidetracked on their journey, both defensive backs went from LSU to professional stardom.
Life has turned out well for them, and now they are aiming to improve the outlook for others, both through their own means and by raising awareness about the hardship many face on a daily basis.
"A lot of families are struggling economically, financially," Mathieu said. "If they could just have somebody that could come in and help them, be a resource for them, especially in times like this, I think it would go a long way."
Images from safety Tyrann Mathieu's turkey giveaway, where he partnered with United Food Bank to donate 200 meals to families in need on Tuesday at Stevenson Elementary School in Mesa