LOS ANGELES -- While the Dodgers were returning to contention on the field in 2013, off the field they continued their leadership role in the community with a growing series of initiatives.
For the holiday season, the Dodgers and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, in partnership with Ralphs, Food 4 Less and Golden State Water Company, hosted the ninth annual Community Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway on Nov. 21 at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers alumni "Sweet" Lou Johnson, Bobby Castillo, Matt Luke and Al Downing were on hand to help distribute a complimentary turkey, fixings and reusable canvas bags to 2,100 preselected, not-for-profit community organizations, who in turn are distributing them to families in need.
The Dodgers this year partnered with the offices of Senator Kevin de León, Senator Robert Huff, Senator Ricardo Lara, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Supervisor Gloria Molina, Council President Herb Wesson, Councilmember Gil Cedillo, Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell, Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Assemblymember Steven Bradford, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, Assemblymember Chris Holden, Councilman Curren Price and Director Al Robles, for the giveaway. The local officials' offices selected organizations in their respective districts that would benefit.
The Dodgers will host 300 children and teachers from local schools and community centers on Dec. 11 for the annual Children's Holiday Party at Dodger Stadium, where players, Dodgers alumni and front-office staff will be on hand to read to the children, sign autographs, sing holiday songs, help with holiday themed arts and crafts and play games. All kids in attendance will receive lunch provided by Levy Restaurants, a new pair of sneakers courtesy of Skechers, a holiday gift and a commemorative photo with Santa.
The club will sponsor and take part in its local neighborhood Echo Park Community Parade on Dec. 14, with Dodgers alumnus Lee Lacy riding the parade route, greeting fans and wishing everyone a happy holiday.
Andre Ethier will visit the Union Rescue Mission on Dec. 16 to serve meals and distribute New Balance shoes and apparel to approximately 30 children who currently call the Mission home.
Clayton Kershaw, the 2012 Roberto Clemente Award Winner, and his wife Ellen are continuing their inspirational charitable endeavors, returning to Africa this week to visit the children at the Arise Home -- the orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia, that they officially opened this past January. The Kershaws will also visit a school where their project this year was to build additional classrooms, as they start to identify future projects.
The Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, in partnership with the LA84 Foundation and the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks and the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, completed five new Dodgers Dreamfields in the Los Angeles area in 2013. Additional fields at Roy Campanella Park and Jesse Owens Park are scheduled for completion between now and January.
The state-of-the-art improvements not only afford neighborhood youth with a field on which they can play the sport they love, they also provide a space for them to experience the importance of playing team sports -- while also learning fundamental life values such as leadership, ethics and fair play. Since the inception of this signature initiative, 30 Dodgers Dreamfields have been built with over $4.5 million invested into communities.
Upgrades to the fields included backstops, dugout enhancements, irrigation improvements, regrading of playing surfaces, new sod and solar-powered scoreboards. Each Dreamfield dedication included sponsors, community members and Dodgers alumni, who ran youth baseball clinics for 100-150 kids. Corporate support included Republic Services for the Rancho Cienega Recreation Center.
The Dodgers Dreamfields completed in 2013 include:
• Reseda Recreation Center (Jan. 12, 2013)
• Highland Park (April 20, 2013) - two fields
• Rancho Cienega Recreation Center (Sept. 28, 2013) - two fields
The club again honored a Veteran of the Game at every home game this year, recognizing an active, reserve or retired member on the field during pregame ceremonies.
The Dodgers and the Dodgers Dream Foundation assisted more than 4,000 charitable organizations in various ways in 2013, including renovating baseball fields in the community, through player appearances, ticket donations and donations of autographed memorabilia and used equipment.
The Fresh Start Working Families Community Festival was the result of the Dodgers and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation teaming up with the SEIU-United Long Term Care Workers Union. The event included family fun for everyone and resources for parents and children to get a good start on the school year -- including health screenings and information about health insurance. Also, 10,000 backpacks were distributed to school children, courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation and So Cal Honda.
By the end of this year, Dodgers alumni will have made more than 300 appearances to local civic, community and non-profit organizations and events to help those groups reach their goals of awareness, promotion or fundraising and to continue to strengthen the Dodgers' connection to the community.
The Dodgers' community-relations team will focus its efforts next year to help children and families play, learn, live and serve. The team will embark on its annual week-long Community Service Caravan to lead off 2014.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com.