ARLINGTON -- The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down the work being done by the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation at the organization’s Youth Academy in West Dallas.
The reality is the efforts of the Foundation and its many partners have become more critical as impacted families and their children continue to face challenging circumstances created by the crisis.
Over the past nine months, the Foundation has distributed approximately 4.5 million free meals to over 200,000 families due the heightened need during the pandemic.
“We are good,” said Rangers senior vice president of community impact Karin Morris, who is executive director of the Foundation. “We’ve been lucky in that we built up our endowment at the right time. We were able to operate our programs either virtually or with the Academy, and with help from corporate sponsors. We were able to weather the storm. I don’t know if we could do it two or three years in a row, but we were able to do most of what we do, but in different ways.”
The work continues on Friday night. For the fourth straight year, the Rangers will be distributing Thanksgiving dinners to 200 families at the Academy’s Mercy Street complex in West Dallas. The Rangers had more applications than available dinners, so other families will receive grocery store gift certificates to help fill their needs.
The Thanksgiving food distribution is normally a festive event at the Academy, with players and employees there to mingle with their guests. Pictures are taken, autographs are signed and memories are made during the event.
The pandemic has curtailed that part of the show. Distribution must be done through drive-up service, with boxes placed inside the cars.
That’s how the Foundation did it when giving away 30 pounds of food to over 1,800 cars in the Globe Life Field parking lot before Game 1 of the World Series. The event began at 8 a.m. CT, but Morris said cars were lined up around the block and out toward I-30 two hours early.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Morris said. “It’s sad to see the need, but we are happy to develop relationships with our partners and use our influence to get that food out.”
The Rangers Foundation has a number of partners, including the Buckner Foundation, the Dallas Housing Authority and Mercy Street at the Academy. Food for the Soul is a faith-based nonprofit located in Keller, Texas, that does a superb job distributing donated food. The Rangers connected with the organization through Big League Impact and Teammates for Kids, two nationally based charities associated with Major League Baseball.
There were certain concessions and adjustments made, but the Academy was able to run its local baseball and softball leagues in the summer and the fall once given clearance by the state of Texas. On July 19, it was able to hold a Signing Day at Globe Life Field for 14 Academy athletes who received college scholarships. Last week, Molina High softball star Ariana Ortiz signed a national letter of intent with Northwest Oklahoma State University.
“Signing my NLI was exciting and unbelievable,” Ortiz said. “I was so happy and thankful, and I couldn't believe that this moment that I had been dreaming about came true. I worked so hard to get here, and it was finally happening.”
Off-the-field activities were done virtually, with a caseworker at the Academy available to help families with financial needs and to help deal with the high anxiety brought on by the pandemic. There were basic classes to help with nutrition and how to shop on a budget. Online tutoring was available to children needing help with their classes. Lunches were provided every Tuesday and Friday.
Young Chef’s Cooking was among the popular classes filled to capacity.
“We have adapted and persevered through this,” Morris said. “Our families and our athletes deserve a lot of the credit. We didn’t have any COVID issues where we had to shut down. We were able to have games. We were able to have fall instruction. Thanks to the parents for following protocol and keeping kids home if they were sick. We were able to keep the kids engaged, because they need interaction and some sense of normalcy.”
The work will continue after Thanksgiving. A toy drive is planned for Christmas, baseball camps are scheduled and preparations are underway for the winter session. The hope is the fantastic indoor facilities will be open for use.
“We are still offering these programs as long as they are safe,” Morris said. “It has taught us to be flexible and how to adjust as we go into winter instruction. It’s tough trying to help these people. We are thankful we have been persevering.
“We are all still rolling along.”