- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2020

At the Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy, teaching kids how to shag a fly ball or how to keep their weight back on a curveball is part of the mission. But there’s more to the academy than that, and since the coronavirus pandemic began, balls and strikes have mattered less.

Instead, the Youth Baseball Academy has shouldered an increased role as a food distributor for families with children in the academy, fighting food insecurity in Wards 7 and 8.

“When we’re going through a situation like the one we are now, it’s important for young kids to get out and play sports and interact with their coaches and mentors,” said Tal Alter, the chief executive officer of Nationals Philanthropies. “But nothing’s more important than putting food on the table.”

During Thanksgiving week, Nationals Philanthropies continued those efforts. On Monday, the Youth Baseball Academy distributed about 200 turkeys to families. And on Tuesday they partnered with Medium Rare, a restaurant with three locations around the D.C. area, to hand out pre-cooked meals.

They’re just one of the teams in the area taking steps during Thanksgiving week to ensure families have food on the table.

“Under normal circumstances, we’d be celebrating all the great baseball that’s being played and the academic enrichment,” Alter said. “Those things are still happening, but first to serve as a central hub for food access is its primary service right now, and that means a lot to us.”

According to the D.C. Food Policy Council, 10.6% of District residents were food insecure before the pandemic spread. That total is projected to be at least 16 percent in 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating those issues.

Like most years, sports teams and athletes are providing meals to families for Thanksgiving across the region. But with the public health emergency and increased need, those efforts are even more important this year.

“We just want to be able to provide some type of relief to families, whether you need a day off, a night off from cooking dinner, or you really didn’t know where your dinner was going to come from,” said Candyce Jones, the event director for the John Wall Family Foundation.

Wall’s foundation donated 1,000 dinners for families, partnering with Henry’s Soul Cafe and Catering to distribute those meals on Tuesday. The first 150 families also received a $25 grocery gift card. The Wizards star also founded the 2020 Assist Program, raising $500,000 for families in Ward 8 who needed rent assistance because of the pandemic.

Wall isn’t the only athlete giving back.

Over 500 families received turkeys and sides in a drive-thru set up in an M&T Bank Stadium parking lot Monday, courtesy of the Ravens’ offensive and defensive linesmen. Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead donated pre-packaged Thanksgiving meals, as did defensive back Anthony Levine, who provided turkeys to over 250 families.

The Washington Football Team also held its yearly Thanksgiving food basket giveaway last week.

At the Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy, produce distribution first began informally in 2015, and a weekly farmers market began in April 2018, in conjunction with 4P Foods. But as the pandemic intensified the hardships members of the academy faced, staff members asked families how they could help.

The feedback led the academy to increase its supply at the produce market by 400 percent since April, now offering 75 bags of produce a week. They’ve distributed 15,000 grab-and-go meals since March, according to the academy’s website, and hope to use funds raised on Giving Tuesday to further its influence as a food access location.

And with turkey and sides distributed leading up to Thanksgiving, the focus on combating food insecurity continues into the holiday season.

“This has absolutely been a priority, and it’s because it’s an existential need,” Alter said. “For people to be happy and healthy during the holidays, food is the foundation of that.”



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