- Associated Press - Thursday, February 2, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The first time Steve Weatherford rolled through the New York Giants locker room with a laundry cart, collecting castoff tennis shoes and cleats, he made sure to tell teammates he wasn’t selling their stuff on eBay.

Quite the contrary.

“Every time he asks, I give him a pair,” Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks said. “I knew it was for a good deed because he had a big bucket full.”

While the rest of the world knows Weatherford for his, how to put it delicately, “exuberant” reaction after the Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers to advance to Sunday’s Super Bowl, the people in his struggling hometown of Terre Haute, Ind., know him for his unending generosity. He has donated money for groceries, and helped raise funds to pay off one family’s electric bill. He has sent countless autographed items to be auctioned off for the local United Way and Boys Club.

And those shoes he collects? He ships them back to be handed out to school kids in Terre Haute. The latest care package arrived Wednesday, two boxes filled with shoes from Nicks, Justin Tuck and the other Giants.

Few Super Bowl souvenirs could be better.

“I always thought he’d be a successful person because of his drive and ambition. I knew he was a good athlete,” said Danny Tanoos, the superintendent of the Vigo County School Corp. “I wasn’t anticipating that he would be so caring about the underprivileged and underserved of our community.

“He just never has said no.”

Terre Haute seems an odd candidate for an impoverished city. Located about 70 miles west of Indianapolis, it is home to both the prestigious Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Indiana State University, Larry Bird’s alma mater.

But 28 percent of its population was below the poverty line in 2009, double the state average. Fifteen percent were below 50 percent of the poverty line, more than double the state average. Of the 16,000 students in the Vigo County district, Tanoos said 54 percent are on fee-reduced lunches.

And every Friday, school officials pack up backpacks of food to send home so students won’t go hungry over the weekend.

“There’s a lot of people in need and there’s a lot of good people that support me there, and they were influential in my sports career and my upbringing,” said Weatherford, whose parents still live in Terre Haute. “To be able to have the opportunity, to be put in the position to be able to give back so generously, is a no-brainer for me.”

Plenty of athletes do charitable work, giving of both their time and money. Former running back Warrick Dunn has provided more than 100 single parents in Atlanta, Tampa, Baton Rouge, La.; and Tallahassee, Fla., with homes, and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow raises money for the orphanage his father works for in the Philippines.

But there is something about Weatherford’s generosity that somehow seems more personal.

“You know a lot of people give back and he’s not one to seek out the spotlight for doing so. But it’s special,” Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes said.

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