The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s warehouse was abuzz with the sounds of teenage chatter, boxes of potatoes zooming down a conveyor belt, and hope recently on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.
Around 115 youth from the Chicago Cubs’ Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program traded in a day off school to participate in a repack event at the Food Depository’s Archer Heights facility with family members and coaches. Together, they took potatoes from large palettes, bagged them in family-size quantities, and boxed them up for delivery to the 700-plus Food Depository partner sites across Cook County. Cubs’ players Jeremiah Estrada and Keegan Thompson, as well as beloved mascot Clark, also joined in with the Day of Service activity.
“Being here is a great start to the day. I like the spirit of giving back,” said Luke Yolich, a 15-year-old short stop. “This isn’t just about baseball. We want to become better people in general.”
Yanelly Contreras, a 16-year-old catcher, echoed his sentiment. “It feels like a great decision to be here offering a helping hand to people in need. You see needs in the community and you want to help. On and off the field, we can make a difference.”
That sense of caring for the community is by design for the Cubs’ RBI group, which seeks to bolster not just the players’ athletic development, but also their academic achievement and civic engagement. Since 2020, when Wrigley Field was transformed into a food pantry during the early days of the pandemic, the group has focused on food insecurity, generously contributing more than 1,100 hours of service as well as monetary donations to help ensure none of their neighbors go hungry.
This MLK Day, Alicia Gonzales, the Executive Director of Cubs Charities, further demonstrated the organization’s commitment to ending hunger with another generous show of support, which Food Depository Executive Director and CEO Kate Maehr gratefully accepted.
“In a speech once, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits,’ said Maehr, as she thanked the youth for their service. “Here’s the truth, not everyone in our community has that. That’s what you all are doing here today.”
For Xavier Arroyo, a 17-year-old outfielder, this service was personal. “I’ve seen people wondering where their meal will come from tonight,” he says. “It’s very fulfilling to be here, knowing that someone will have a meal because of what we’re doing.”
By the end of the shift, the youth helped pack the equivalent of 19,267 meals for our neighbors in need.
“(The fact) that those who have food in their stomachs are here helping others is something everyone should be encouraged about,” commented Cubs relief pitcher Jeremiah Estrada at the end of the session.