Those folks interested in such things know that, as of Tuesday night, the 2020 Major League Baseball season and the World Series are now behind us. The Los Angeles Dodgers are being hailed as the new champions. In the context of this unusual season and unusual year the Dodgers, as the winning team, will enjoy all the celebration that can be accorded to World Series champions in the time of COVID.
Not all teams or sports figures make it to the play-offs, so they cannot even compete for the title of “winners.” But that same limitation is not always true of the people we call champions. The designation as champion does not necessarily refer to what those folks have accomplished for themselves. In fact, the very opposite can be true. Outside of sports competitions, that term “champions” has a much broader, and more important, definition. In a different context it refers to individuals who dedicate their time and energy to earnestly advocating in behalf of others. All great causes — like the fight to reduce hunger — need those types of selfless champions who are willing to dedicate their time, energy, heart and resources to achieving a shared purpose. We at NFESH like to consider most of you who regularly read this blog as champions, because the majority of you have devoted yourselves and professional lives to addressing food insecurity among our nation’s seniors.
If, by now, you are wondering what all this has do with Major League Baseball, that’s no surprise. We are proud and pleased to share a story with you that demonstrates just what kind of life-supporting good can result when an innovative, generous and forward-thinking baseball professional collaborates with NFESH CEO Enid Borden and a local nonprofit for the purpose of addressing the real-world problem of senior hunger. For months before the pandemic hit, Enid and Texas Rangers Bench Coach, and former MLB Manager and player, Don Wakamatsu, had been brainstorming about ways to join forces to help seniors. Another hat that Wakamatsu wears is founder of the WakWay Foundation. Don wanted to know how his foundation could help serve seniors in the Fort Worth area. Specifically, he wanted to come up with some special shelf stable food items that could be donated and delivered to seniors. He took the idea to other organizations that had other areas of expertise, inviting them to work with him. The result was the creation of a unique line of signature peanut butter and jellies.
While he was focused on the product side of the project, Wakamatsu knew that there were other doors that needed opening. He relied on Enid Borden, who shared his vision and passion, for help with that. So the two leaders began working in partnership and brainstorming to turn concept into reality. The first contact that Enid made was with Carla Jutson and Barbara Lundgren of Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County, long-time friends and recognized “champions” in the cause of making nutritious food accessible and available to elders in their community. At the same time Wakamatsu began recruiting the support and participation of professional baseball players from the Texas Rangers organization. Out of it all came a project – perfectly timed — to bring both additional food and encouragement to home-bound seniors in Tarrant County. Through the project, Rangers players signed on to accompany MOW volunteers on their routes to bring the special peanut butter as well as jelly, both in MLB player-autographed jars, to home-delivered meal clients to augment their regular meals with shelf stable items. The opportunity to meet a player from the Texas Rangers face-to-face was a sweet treat in and of itself and one that seniors, as well as the baseball players themselves, will not soon forget.
At the beginning of this 2020 Major League Baseball season, teams were competing in front of stands filled with nothing but cardboard cutouts. As the days have passed and senior citizens have remained largely quarantined at home for literally months, we imagine many of them likely were beginning to feel a bit like those paper figures – voiceless and forgotten. The hope is that much of that sense disappeared when Rangers players, true champions, knocked on their doors to bring them unexpected gifts and attention. Surely the memory of that meal delivery will be an exceptional kind of nourishment that will remain with them long after the last spoonful of peanut butter is scooped from those special jars.
So, call it perfect timing. Call it the fruits of imagination, ingenuity, partnership, dedication and compassion for others. Call it what you will. We call this type of collaboration as American as baseball — and the very sort of thing that real champions for a good cause love to do.