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MLB and teams doing their part to fight hunger

If you want to eliminate hunger, everybody has to be involved.
-- Bono

To fans at Wednesday's Indians-Reds game in Cincinnati, it is about more bragging rights and the tempting possibility of an Ohio October. It also is about helping people who are struggling to feed themselves and participating in the sixth annual Strike Out Hunger event that last year netted 6,000 pounds of food, feeding 2,100 local citizens.

In Seattle on Saturday, fans are asked to donate non-perishable food items that will be collected at all Safeco Field gates to benefit the Northwest Harvest on Fight Hunger Night. In Arizona, club president Derrick Hall is tweeting an #EndHunger challenge to support United Way's food-relief efforts and to free up 10,000 lower-level seats at Chase Field as incentive.

If everybody has to be involved, then there are few better ways than to build a common theme at the ballparks of all 30 Major League Baseball clubs. It is a visible trend these days, with so many overlapping initiatives creating a positive impact at the local levels, and especially needed at a time when food supplies are running scarce.

"We've seen a record number of people at our food pantries," said Liz Carter, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, which will partner with the Reds to collect non-perishable food items before and during Wednesday night's game. "Many families are still struggling in the face of a challenging economy. They make many sacrifices, but food is vital. ... With the support of the community, we can continue to feed our neighbors in need."

Fans at Great America Ball Park who donate a minimum of two non-perishable food items in designated food-collection barrels will receive one View Level ticket to the July 30 Reds vs. Padres game (one ticket per person). Barrels are outside the gates, so fans do not need a ticket to Wednesday's game to donate and receive the free ticket to the July 30 game.

"The Cincinnati Reds are committed to alleviating hunger in our community," said Reds community relations director Lorrie Platt. "We are pleased to partner once again with St. Vincent de Paul and with our fans to work toward meeting that goal."

The Mariners and News Talk 97.3 KIRO FM are the sponsors of Fight Hunger Night when the Giants are in town on Saturday. In 2011, that annual food drive collected $7,000 in cash donations and 800 pounds of food for Northwest Harvest.

"We take our responsibility to the community very seriously at the Seattle Mariners," said Howard Lincoln, the Mariners' chairman and CEO. "I'm proud that Mariners Care, our corporate partners and our fans have helped make such a positive and lasting impact on our community."

The Phillies are about to announce details of their second annual Phans Feeding Families event at Citizens Bank Park, scheduled for later this summer. The club works with Philabundance, an organization that gives food to those in need, and the program has provided more than 190,000 meals for families in need. That included more than five tons of food donated by fans before a pair of home games last July.

"By joining together with our corporate partners, it is the Phillies' hope that hundreds of thousands of local residents will no longer have to fear about where their next meal will come from or how they will feed their families," Phillies president David Montgomery said.

In Arizona, Hall's personal message to fans is simple: Grow his @DHallDbacks Twitter account to 10,000 followers (it was around 9,400 on Tuesday), and the D-backs will release 10,000 lower-level seats for $10. Promised Hall in the tweeted video: "Of those proceeds, half are going to ending hunger, which is very important to me."

Hall served as a chairman for United Way and created a committee to end hunger in Maricopa County, working in conjunction with the Arizona Food Bank, which helps with supplies and targeting demographics. He called it "a major problem" in Arizona and elsewhere.

"We can help 33 percent of those chronically hungry by 2016 and 62 percent by 2020," Hall said. "So I'm trying to drive as much awareness and raise as much money as I can. You look at our economy, we were hit hard, and a fifth of all Arizonans have to decide every day whether to pay utilities or groceries. Forty-one percent of Arizonans have to decide today whether to buy groceries or pay rent. Those numbers are troubling and they are only growing.

"We're going to find ways to raise money to end hunger. One way is through my Twitter. With MLB as a whole, what a powerful vehicle we have. We could be messaging and driving awareness and hopefully mobilizing people. It does work, and this is one of those causes that is becoming more and more important to every team."

Major League Baseball will use its All-Star Week platform next month in Kansas City as a way to fight hunger as well. After several events, including the All-Star Game Gala and All-Star Pre-Game Celebration, perishable foods will be collected and distributed to the hungry through Harvesters, which has been helping people in need since 1979. As the Kansas City area's only food bank, Harvesters collects food and household products from community and industry sources, distributes those products and provides nutrition services through a network of 620 nonprofit agencies throughout a 26-county area.

Harvesters also offers leadership and education programs to increase community awareness of hunger and generate solutions to alleviate hunger, working with food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, children's homes, homes for the mentally disabled and shelters for battered persons. Harvesters provides assistance to as many as 66,000 people weekly, and is a certified member of Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks serving all 50 states.

The Mets are in the midst of a season-long Feeding the Big Apple campaign, presented by The Hain Celestial Group and featuring 12 Food Drive Fridays at Citi Field. Mets players are participating in the activities of longtime Mets partners City Harvest, Citymeals-on-Wheels, Island Harvest, Rock and Wrap It Up!, and a PSA raising awareness of hunger-related issues is airing at the ballpark and on SNY.

On May 19, the Royals partnered with the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, Operation Blessing International and more than 200 volunteers to help feed those in need during the Operation Blessing event.

In San Francisco, the Giants' annual Step up to the Plate Night is scheduled for Aug. 23, when the Braves visit AT&T Park. Its mission for the eighth straight year is to raise awareness for those living in poverty and hardship, and it is in community partnership with GLIDE Memorial, At The Crossroads, Larkin St. Youth Services, Huckleberry Youth Programs, Walden House and Project Homeless Connect. Partial proceeds from ticket sales will benefit those nonprofits. The Giants also facilitate the annual, nationally broadcast Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.

Gary Garland, executive director of Lakeview Pantry in Chicago, last year called the Cubs Wives' Food Drive, nine years running so far, "an essential component in Lakeview Pantry's ability to get food to those in need in our community."

"Not only is it our largest annual food drive, but it comes in late summer when many other sources of food are becoming scarce," Garland said. "We are proud to partner with the Chicago Cubs to help meet the nutritional needs of neighbors who struggle to secure food for themselves and their families."