It began with one person. One person became two. Two became more and more until suddenly, an entire community was united by one desire: to make a difference.With the Minor League Baseball season on pause as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, teams across the country have been hard at
It began with one person. One person became two. Two became more and more until suddenly, an entire community was united by one desire: to make a difference.
With the Minor League Baseball season on pause as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, teams across the country have been hard at work finding ways to help their communities. The Northwest League's Eugene Emeralds are one such team, and what started as a small sewing project became a larger initiative to make an impact in the lives of the many Eugene residents who have been coming to Emeralds games for decades. For their efforts with "Eugene United," the Emeralds have been named the winners of Minor League Baseball's April Promotion of the Month.
"We ask the community to support us during our season, so if there's any way we can support the community we're on it," Eugene's Director of Community Relations Anne Culhane said. "Our big thing is finding out the needs in the community and being there for the people that are there for us every summer, day in and day out."
The Emeralds have always been involved in the Eugene community, but saw an opportunity to step up when they learned that Megan Dompe, the wife of Emeralds Assistant General Manager Matt Dompe, was sewing masks for those in need of them. Culhane got involved and started delivering the masks Dompe made, but it wasn't long before the rest of the Emeralds front office was brainstorming ways to contribute to the newly formed Mask Project of Lane County. After the Emeralds posted about the project on their Facebook page, fans in the area instantly offered to assist with the process.
"Everyone just wants to be able to help somehow, so we just wanted to give fans a way to feel like they're helping and be able to do something good," Culhane said.
Dompe assembles kits of supplies to create between 10-50 masks, which are then distributed by the Emeralds to volunteers all over the community. Once the masks are made, the Emeralds pick them up and return them to Dompe, who assesses the needs of local organizations and distributes them accordingly.
By the end of April, the team had over 100 volunteers, had sent out over 4,000 mask kits and had delivered over 2,100 completed masks to local hospitals. In addition, the team had donated masks to over 20 local groups, including health care providers, assisted living facilities, women's care centers, police and fire departments, health centers and school personnel.
"From the start, we collectively said we need to be out there as much as possible," said General Manager Allan Benavides. "We weren't just going to wait things out. We knew we had some responsibility to make sure the Ems were out trying to help the community as much as we can. We're still here."
As the project grew and the team's community sponsors and partners showed interest in getting involved, the Emeralds saw an opportunity to expand their scope. They partnered with Kendall Auto of Eugene and the local Heritage Distillery on a PPE Drive, collecting N95 masks, gloves and cleaning supplies for local hospitals. The three organizations also partnered on 'Stuff the Truck' drives to collect food and diapers for families in need. The second 'Stuff the Truck' drive was a huge success, with two full-size box trucks stuffed with supplies, in addition to thousands of dollars in cash and gift cards, donated. The team also received an anonymous $10,000 donation.
"That's the coolest part is seeing how it's trickled down through the community," said Director of Social Media & Team Store Manager Shelby Holteen. "We're seeing how people we don't necessarily work with a lot or see all the time come together and do their part. Some of these drives we walk away with a ton of supplies and others are smaller, but no matter what we're walking away with something."
The Emeralds have held food drives for Food for Lane County, a local food bank where the staff spends a few hours volunteering every Thursday. The Emeralds held a 'Cards from the Heart' drive, collecting thank you cards for first responders, doctors and others on the front lines of the pandemic. The team worked with Kendall Auto and the University of Oregon, with whom the Emeralds share facilities, to hold blood drives for the American Red Cross, the first of which resulted in enough blood collected and donated to save over 250 lives.
"Our community has always stepped up when we get involved, whether it's something at the ballpark or something we support, so I had no doubt in my mind that our fans would step up," Culhane said. "Just being at some of these events and hearing people thank us for being that intermediate is something that makes you realize how important it is in times like this for everyone to stand together and help."
The work continues, as the Emeralds remain committed to giving back to the Eugene community that has supported them over the years. Recent diaper drives, blood drives and even a superhero-themed birthday parade demonstrate the team's continued commitment to its fans. There may not be baseball right now, but there's plenty of hope in Eugene.