The following is an essay written by Melanie LeGrande, Major League Baseball’s Vice President of Social Responsibility, reflecting upon a year of community outreach and giving in a time when there was an urgency for both.
This year has been challenging. Many of us are hurting and experiencing pain and loss. No matter your circumstance, every one of us has experienced moments that have just been hard. Then, there are moments that take my breath away, and people who do the same with their kindness, devotion and endless quest for positive contributions to our society. They are inspiring
The holidays are always a special time of year, but they will look a bit different in 2020. In December, many of us may find ourselves packing up for a road trip to quarantine just with Mom, or hunkering down in our homes to Zoom with the immediate family, or home alone for the first time in years. Not a cross-country flight for the huge gathering. We are all finding ways to be physically distanced to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, which can be tough and overwhelming.
I am a firm believer that corporations have a “social responsibility” to contribute to the betterment of society. At MLB, we include this responsibility in our mission statement:
“Major League Baseball strives to provide the premier form of athletic entertainment in a manner that is fun and socially responsible while strengthening and enhancing the communities in which we operate.”
Despite the challenges of 2020, and maybe because of them, I am even more proud to be part of an organization that aims for impact and invests in the future of our local communities.
T is for turkey (and traditions, both old and new)
In early November, Anthony Pardo and Xavier Murillo, the co-leads of our internal employee SOMOS MLB business resource group whose mission is to enhance MLB's efforts in the Latino community, reached out to find a partner in Queens, N.Y., to support the donation of 100 turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday. I connected them to Elmcor, an agency providing comprehensive services to a majority Latinx population in and around Queens. The Food Bank of New York City was gracious enough to source the turkeys and deliver straight to Elmcor. We received an additional contribution from We Smile Dental to complement our turkey donation with fresh produce for the families. A group of MLB employees was onsite with Elmcor staff to facilitate the distribution to the grateful families.
Murillo messaged me after the event.
“It was important for me to give back to the Queens community because it’s where I was born and raised, and where I learned many life lessons and family values," Murillo wrote. "Helping out families during the holidays was a very rewarding feeling, especially coming from someone who would line up on Wednesdays with his grandmother to pick up a bag or two of canned goods. I was overwhelmed with gratitude, and I look forward to being a part of it again next year!”
In Compton, Calif., and New Orleans, our MLB Youth Academies continued their traditions of serving families in need as well. Alongside partners Compton College and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the MLB Youth Academy in Compton hosted its 16th annual distribution to provide 1,000 turkeys and 30-pound boxes of groceries, allowing families to have all the necessary items to eat in the comfort of their own homes for the holiday. The New Orleans Youth Academy also hosted an event to support families with turkey giveaways, and they also made home visits to seniors, adhering to local safety and health guidelines, to ensure their holiday needs were met.
The nearly 1,500 turkeys and meals distributed by Major League Baseball were complemented by the vast work of MLB teams across our industry.
Winter Wishes come true
The Winter Wishes program is one of my favorite initiatives of the year. Since 2002, MLB employees have provided gifts for underserved children in local communities through this program. This year, we partnered with three affiliates of Boys & Girls Clubs of America (MLB’s official charity) to fulfill wish letters from youth across California, Colorado and New York.
Normally, employees would drop off their gifts and we would host a party for selected youth at our offices in New York, or at MLB Network in New Jersey. We’ve even had gift-wrapping parties to get the bounty ready for the kids. This year, we invited employees to ship their gifts, and with a lot of help from our Office Operations team, the packages are on their way to some excited children. With the opening of our first flagship store, MLB NYC, customers joined our efforts, making a cash donation or purchasing an item in-store to add to the holiday magic.
Antonio Fort Jr., director of clubhouse operations at longtime partner Madison Square Boys & Girls Club, said: “You have always hit home runs for our children and now, during this pandemic, you have hit a grand slam! Your Winter Wishes gifts for our Club children will bring a joyful smile to their faces and brighten their Holiday Spirit. Keep swinging for the fences for our children!”
More than 125 children have a brighter holiday this year during a time when children’s mental and physical health is more fragile than ever. We celebrate our community for rallying together to make this holiday special and bright for young people. I hope my recipient, Duane, enjoys his new Cookie Monster toy and warm-weather gear.
Care about what others care about
Every year, MLB provides “donation currency” to our full-time employees in conjunction with “Giving Tuesday,” a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate and celebrate generosity. Through our Beyond the Bases internal portal, employees are provided with $25 each to donate to a charity of their choice. In our 2020 Giving Tuesday campaign, more than 650 employees donated nearly $20,000 to 350 nonprofit organizations across the country.
Our top charities this year included Meals on Wheels, Food Bank for New York City, Stand Up To Cancer, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the CDC Foundation. What I always find fascinating is seeing the depth of causes cared for by our colleagues. For instance, one of our top three categories for employee giving is always animal services.
One employee used his donation currency to support Big Dog Ranch Rescue. Headquartered in Florida, the organization was founded with a mission to save 5,000 dogs every year, to heal and place them with loving families and to educate people about the proper care for dogs and the importance of spaying and neutering. Personally, as an avid reader and lover of books, I was excited to see multiple libraries as recipients in the 2020 campaign.
Find joy in the little things
This week, I volunteered at DREAM in Harlem. Formerly known as Harlem RBI, the organization’s mission is to level the field by empowering all children to recognize their potential and realize their dreams. MLB loves DREAM. In addition to financial support and employees who volunteer as mentors to students and alumni, Commissioner Rob Manfred serves on the board. I joined others to assemble bags of produce for the 200 families who would be served later that day with full meals, toy, and warm weather gear for the holidays. The joy of giving!
Major League Baseball is about the business of baseball, yes, but it’s also about the joy of play and the heart of service to communities. This is reflected by action at the headquarters of the Commissioner’s Office, across our clubs and also commitments by our players. As I write this, The Players Alliance, a newly formed coalition of more than 100 Black current and former professional baseball players, is traversing the country with its “Pull Up Neighbor” tour. The tour is making stops in more than 35 cities over a two-month period, providing children and families with much-needed resources like food, PPE, and, yes, youth baseball equipment.
Our combined efforts, both large and small, have helped so many who are struggling during this challenging time. I hope that as a community, we remain encouraged to find new and creative ways to help others. Each of us can make a difference. I truly believe it. Cheers to 2021, and best wishes on a safe, healthy and prosperous new year.