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Myles Turner is trying to help keep the homeless W.A.R.M. this winter

The emerging Indiana Pacers star is giving back to the community during the coldest months

This holiday season, the Indianapolis homeless community’s needs were met by a saint in the form of a 6-foot-11 Indiana Pacers big man who has been doing his part to help since childhood.

“We came up to some guy and he had to be in his mid-to-late 20s. And he looked in the bag and said, ‘You have no idea how much this helped me. I didn’t know what I was going to eat tonight,’ ” Pacers center-forward Myles Turner told The Undefeated. “That kind of hit home with me. [Some people] don’t know when their next meal is going to be. That was pretty tough to see.”

According to a www.endhomelessness.org report, there were 564, 708 people in the United States living on the streets, in cars, in homeless shelters or in subsidized transitional housing during a one-night national survey last January. Out of that total, 206,286 were people in families, 358,422 were individuals and a quarter of the entire group were children. And with the winter season in full swing, the homeless are in the midst of the roughest of their already rough times in the cold nationwide.

“It’s definitely an epidemic,” Turner said. “I want us to get better. The way the economy is struggling at times, you never know what is going to happen over the next couple of years. It’s something that is very sad.”

Turner and his family have been doing their best to aid the homeless since he was a little boy.

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I've gotten lots of questions about recent photos of me giving out bags to people in need in Indianapolis. What was happening was "WARM", a Turner family tradition going back to when I was a child. Growing up my parents taught us the importance of giving back. During the winter they kept our car stocked with coats, blankets and care packs, just in case we saw someone in need. My family and I are carrying on that tradition this winter with our WARM Packs because, We, All, Really, Matter My family would like to encourage you to join us in this tradition by simply keeping a couple of baggies with comforting items handy and maybe add a note of encouragement! Let’s Keep Indy WARM this winter! Packages could Include the following: Bottle of water , Juice Pack, Peanut butter crackers, Cheese crackers, Granola, Cereal Bars, Poptarts, Fruit Cup, Nuts, Cough Drops/Tylenol, Wipes, Kleenex, Tooth Brush/Toothpaste, Lotion, ChapStick, Socks, Gloves, Hand Warmers, Thermal Blankets.

A post shared by Myl3s Turn3r (@turner_myles) on

Turner, who was born in Bedford, Texas, started playing basketball at 6 years old. It was also around that time that his mom, Mary, had him take notice of the issue of homelessness in the suburb they lived in between Dallas and Fort Worth.

“When I was a kid, I looked for the positive in everything. I was very naive at the time,” he said. “I said, ‘Mom, why aren’t they at their house? Why are they outside?’ She said, ‘Those are the less fortunate. They can’t afford to live in a warm house like we do.’ That was a big impactful moment for me. I obviously never want that for myself, but I never want to see anyone else in that predicament.

“There were some kids outside with their mom and dad. [The kids] were my age — 8, 9, 10 years old. It was hard to watch kids having to grow up that way. It was rough.”

Turner, his parents, his younger sister, My’a, and other family members have done their part to try to help the homeless for years. Around 2002, he and his mother began a “family pact” to help the homeless after they gave clothes and money to a very appreciative homeless man they encountered. Afterward, the Turner family kept bags in the trunks of their car to give to the homeless that included clothing and food.

“We had some clothes in the back of the car that we were probably going to take to Goodwill or a donation box,” Mary Turner told The Undefeated. “Myles also had a jacket back there that he didn’t mind giving up. He gave the jacket to the homeless man and some of his gloves. We gave him a couple of dollars. His reaction was so thankful and he gave me a hug. From that point on, we just kept little things in our car.”

“Me and mom would be driving and see a lot of homeless people outside,” Myles Turner said. “It was cold and miserable to watch. My mom always had extra supplies in the back of her car: food, water. She went around and started giving it out.”

The Turner packages for the homeless eventually evolved to include things such as bottled water, juice packs, peanut butter cookies, cheese crackers, granola, cereal bars, pop tarts, fruit cups, cough drops, aspirin, Kleenex, toothbrushes, toothpaste, lotion, lip balm, socks, gloves, hand warmers and thermal blankets. Other family members began helping out, too. They would later add motivational notes to the packages with phrases such as, “You Can Do It,” “Take Care Of Yourself; We Care” and “God Loves You. Hope Is A Rainbow Of Thought,” among other things.

“I wouldn’t call it a tradition. It’s more like a family pact. It’s just something we do as a family,” Mary Turner said.

Myles Turner ended up becoming a basketball standout — a McDonald’s All-American in 2014 who starred as a freshman for the University of Texas. The Pacers selected the 2015 Big 12 Freshman of the Year with the 11th overall pick in the NBA draft that year. Turner was one of the surprise rookies last season, averaging 10.1 points and 6.5 rebounds.

Turner also yearned to make an impact off the court in Indianapolis. With the frigid winters in mind, Mary Turner suggested last year that her son implement the family pact to aid the homeless in Indianapolis year-round. The Turners decided to call the initiative “W.A.R.M.,” which stands for “We All Really Matter” after introducing it to the city during the preseason of the 2015-16 NBA season.

On Nov. 16, Turner handed out free lunch and care packages to the needy as part of his W.A.R.M. initiative in downtown Indianapolis. He said he always has several care packages in the back of his car at all times, and emphasized that others should do the same.

“I wanted to get involved in my new community,” he said. “Indianapolis has welcomed me with such open arms. I’m trying to give back any way possible. Everyone that works with the homeless goes to homeless shelters. I kind of wanted to do my own thing …

“We take donations. Kroger was a huge donor and donated supplies. Back in the day, we had things laying around the house. Now, it’s coming from fans from all around. What we encourage people to do is not donate to us, but do it yourself. It’s not a charity. It’s an initiative. We want people to do what we’re doing.”

Turner described his strong sophomore season start, with averages of 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds through 31 games, as a “decent start.” He said he’s not satisfied and wants to continue to grow and learn as a player. He believes one benefit of one day reaching his NBA star potential could be increasing the national impact of W.A.R.M.

“What if it was one of your friends out there?,” Turner said. “What would you do in that situation? What would you do to help? It stands for ‘We All Really Matter.’ Not some of us. All of us. I just really encourage people, especially the fans, to put together one of these bags together and go out there. Money is great, but we need stuff they can use right away …

“Hopefully, if I can start playing better, get my name out there more, people will start paying attention to [W.A.R.M.]. It’s not that big yet, but it’s a goal of mine.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.