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On MLK Day, Cubs and youth baseball players give back

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Those words from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are emblazoned on the walls of the volunteer orientation room at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. They serve as a challenge and an invitation. On Monday, dozens of youth baseball players from Chicago’s South and West Sides answered the call by volunteering to pack food for the hundreds of thousands of people in Cook County facing food insecurity. The Food Depository hosted its second Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service in partnership with Cubs Charities, the nonprofit arm of the Chicago Cubs.
Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, addresses the volunteers at the Food Depository's second annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation, addresses the volunteers at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

Together, the young baseball players, family members and coaches packed the equivalent of more than 33,000 meals for families in need. They got a surprise boost from two Chicago Cubs outfielders – Jason Heyward and Ian Happ.

“It’s awesome to see everyone from different races and different cultures coming together and just enjoying giving back,” Heyward said. “It’s also awesome to see it because they do it all the time here at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.”
Cubs outfielders Ian Happ and Jason Heyward have been strong supporters of the Food Depository's work during the pandemic.

Cubs outfielders Ian Happ and Jason Heyward packed food and lifted spirits.

Happ and Heyward, both generous supporters of the Food Depository’s work during the pandemic, worked and mingled with fans at each of the four work stations set up in the warehouse. The sluggers packed food while lifting spirits, making small talk and giving out (gloved) daps.
Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward delights a youth baseball coach during the volunteer project.

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward delights a youth baseball coach during the volunteer project.

Abel Yolich, an 18-year-old middle infielder who lives in Humboldt Park, chatted about offseason training with Happ while packing emergency food boxes – a special opportunity for the aspiring ballplayer.
Cubs outfielder Ian Happ, left, talks to Abel Yolich, of Humboldt Park, as they pack food boxes.

Cubs outfielder Ian Happ, left, talks to Abel Yolich, of Humboldt Park, as they pack food boxes.

As a young Black man, Yolich said, it was important to him to give back to the community to honor the legacy of Dr. King. “I think Ian wanted to do the same thing,” Yolich said. “For him being a professional player doing that, it’s really special.”
Young ballplayers, family members and coaches with Cubs Charities packed nearly 40,000 pounds of food for families in need.

Youth ballplayers, family members and coaches packed nearly 40,000 pounds of food for families in need.

Earlier in the pandemic, Happ partnered with the Bourbonnais-based Connect Roasters to launch Quarantine Coffee, which benefits the Food Depository. In a previous interview with the Hunger Beat, Happ said he was inspired to get involved after seeing Heyward donate $100,000 to the Food Depository in March. “We felt so strongly about doing something that impacts on this scale and helps so many people throughout the community who are in need of food,” Happ said after the volunteer project. “We’re really thrilled to be a part of it.”
A young Cubs Charities volunteer adds a jar of peanut butter to an emergency food box at the MLK Day of Service.

A young volunteer adds a jar of peanut butter to an emergency food box at the MLK Day of Service.

It was the first time visiting the Food Depository for both Happ and Heyward. They liked what they saw. “To show up here today and to see what they’re actually doing with my donation and everyone’s contributions is huge,” Heyward said. “They’re doing a lot of good with a lot of resources.”

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