Under the blazing sun and cloudless sky, some 200 boys and girls from all over Chicago played baseball.
They ran the bases with exuberance, swung away in the batting cages and performed fielding drills until the whistle blew. And when they all gathered at home plate to conclude the camp, they chanted for the three-time All Star: “Curtis! Curtis! Curtis!”
The scene was sublime at Curtis Granderson Stadium, a pristine ballpark at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) that faces a sweeping view of the city skyline. Granderson, a Chicago area native and Miami Marlins outfielder, trotted in from the outfield to address his young charges at the Grand Kids Academy, his annual camp during Major League Baseball’s All-Star break.
Before sending the campers off, Granderson served them lunch from the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s Lunch Bus. The kids lined up for free and healthy lunches of chicken or cheese sandwiches, fruit and carrots.
Chicago is home to Granderson. He doesn’t forget that.
“By being here, I got a chance to witness a bunch of different things – like the fact that some people don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Granderson, 38.
Granderson still lives near the UIC campus. He makes a point to give back to the community and help those in need. In recent years, Granderson has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars toward ending hunger in Chicago and throughout Cook County, notably through his annual Grand Giving campaign, which partners with Mariano’s to raise money for the Food Depository.
Granderson is the rare athlete who’s perhaps known as much for his philanthropy as he is for his illustrious career, which spans 15 years in the big leagues. In 2016, he won the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award given each year to the MLB player who shows the most commitment to giving back to the community.
Since 2013, he and his Grand Kids Foundation have supported the Food Depository with fundraising events, cause marketing campaigns, volunteerism and visits to meal programs for kids.
“Curtis shares our belief that a healthy community starts with food,” said Jim Conwell, senior director of marketing and communications for the Food Depository. “We are grateful for his commitment to our mission of ending hunger.”
Granderson’s foundation has supported food banks in every city he’s played in, including Detroit, New York, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Toronto and Miami. He also contributes to his alma mater UIC, including a $5 million personal donation several years ago to build the Les Miller Field at Curtis Granderson Stadium, which provides low-income youth the opportunity to play, learn and grow.
Growing up in south suburban Lynwood, Granderson didn’t lack consistent access to food. But he learned about food insecurity through his parents, who were both Chicago Public Schools teachers.
Some of their students regularly experienced hunger and depended on school meals, he recalled.
“So, I saw my mom and dad, from a very young age, always inviting people over – ‘Hey, if you’re hungry, we’ll definitely make sure you have something to eat. If there’s leftovers, we’ll bring it to school and help out some individuals that way,’” Granderson said. “We couldn’t help everybody, but we did help a few along the way.”
That stuck with Granderson. And as he found success as a professional ballplayer, he made a point to give back on an even larger scale.
As the kids followed Granderson to the Lunch Bus, they stuck close by his side, craning their necks to peer up at the famous ballplayer.
“You’re like a motivational speaker,” one boy said in a reverential tone.
“You like how I talk?” Granderson said with a grin. “I’m glad.”
In his final remarks to the campers, Granderson reminded them that they could get free summer lunches through the Lunch Bus. (To find the summer meal nearest you, visit the Summer Meals Illinois site or text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877.)
Afterward, he recalled when a camper a few years ago asked if he could take two lunches – one for his brother at home who was hungry.
“Right then and there, even though we weren’t trying to do it, we were affecting so many different kids on so many different levels,” Granderson said. “And we’ve been able to do a lot of great things with the help of the Food Depository.”