Baltimore Orioles and CareFirst: Teaming up to Support The Food Project
The Orioles deepened their involvement in the Baltimore community earlier this year when they announced their partnership with CareFirst Blue Cross BlueShield. As part of the partnership, the organizations will focus on supporting The Food Project, a local Baltimore non-profit, for the next three years.
Located just two miles from Oriole Park, The Food Project brings cooking, farming, restaurant skills, job opportunities, sustainable food sources, mentorship, and hope to the youth in Southwest Baltimore.
“We are thrilled to join forces with CareFirst to support a wonderful local organization in The Food Project,” said Jennifer Grondahl, Orioles Senior Vice President, Community Development & Communications. “We were first introduced to The Food Project in 2019 and have been working with them ever since. Their Seedy Nutty Granola is a popular food item purchased in our ballpark, and we were fortunate to employ at-risk youth from their program in our ballpark during the 2022 season. This new initiative is just an extension of what has already been a years-long positive relationship, and we are looking forward to getting more people involved to continue to give back to our Baltimore community.”
As part of their partnership, the Orioles and CareFirst have pledged funds to provide jobs within The Food Project. The jobs include an operations manager, kitchen manager, meal deliverer, and a Seedy Nutty Granola production manager, and will directly impact those living in Southwest Baltimore.
One of the individuals benefiting from this partnership is Operations Manager, Ashley Dingle. She’s described as a powerhouse with a heart for the community.
“She shows tough love with her 20 years of experience in managing others,” said Michelle Suazo, Executive Director of The Food Project. “Her pep talks with the kids moves them beyond looking for a paycheck and leads them to wanting to work for something bigger.”
Kitchen Manager Tyshae Jennings is working toward getting her early childcare license, and The Food Project is helping her open a daycare in their building that accepts vouchers from young parents needing work, but who can’t afford daycare.
Tyree Johnson, a rising rapper from the neighborhood, helps with meal deliveries. While he is out delivering it is common for community members to recognize him and start singing his verses about getting out of the neighborhood.
Johnson is also helping to launch “The Grind” pop-up shop and restaurant, which will be located on The Food Project’s property. The pop-up shop and restaurant are named in honor of Troy Rush, a young man and Food Project member who was tragically shot and killed in 2021.
Demonte Palmer is the Production Manager for the Seedy Nutty Granola product. The Food Project is looking to expand the social enterprise that is produced out of their kitchen to create more jobs. Eventually, The Food Project would like to work with a local food bank to include the Seedy Nutty Granola in their food boxes.
In addition to providing funding for jobs, the Orioles and CareFirst have made it a priority to give back to The Food Project in other ways, including on-site volunteer work.
Earlier this year, Members of the Orioles Orange and Black Gives Back employee volunteer program teamed up with CareFirst employees to volunteer at The Food Project. Throughout the day, the volunteers helped prepare 460 meals to be given to community members. They also helped around the building, painting hallways and gardening outside. At the end of the day, volunteers were given a tour of the organization’s buildings and met some of the Southwest Baltimore youth that The Food Project supports.
This past Giving Tuesday, the Orioles held a winter clothing drive at Oriole Park, where O’s employees and fans donated 195 pieces of winter clothing to The Food Project for them to distribute to families in the Southwest Baltimore community.
The Orioles also held a Giving Tuesday online auction where fans bid on autographed items, game-used memorabilia, and exclusive experiences. More than $5,000 was raised, and all proceeds benefited The Food Project.
Noting the importance the program serves in the community, The Food Project was the Orioles Team Charity in 2021, helping to raise awareness of the organization throughout the community. Throughout the 2022 season, 32 at-risk youth from The Food Project were employed at Oriole Park, and more than one-hundred bags of their Seedy Nutty Granola were sold in the Birdland Market.
Both the Orioles and CareFirst are committed to giving back to the community and believe this partnership does that in the best way. Over the next three years they hope to continue to give back and show the good The Food Project is doing for Southwest Baltimore.
“It’s so funny because people might drive through the neighborhood and be scared because you see all the crumbling buildings, but what’s so beautiful are the people,” said Suazo. “I think at the end of the day, the more people that got to know the community, you’d see the value in helping.”