Food drive a big success at Oriole Park

Food drive a big success at Oriole Park

BALTIMORE -- They surface around this time each year.

Dozens of red buckets and cardboard donation boxes line the entrances gates, with countless volunteers ready to greet fans as they enter the ballpark.

It's a tradition 23 years in the making. Each year, Oriole Park at Camden Yards transforms into a hub of generosity, collecting money and cans of food to provide for the less fortunate members in the surrounding community.

This past weekend, OriolesREACH partnered with the Orioles Wives, WJZ-TV, MASN, Von Paris and the Oriole Advocates to host the 23rd annual food drive to benefit the Maryland Food Bank. Members of each group select one weekend during the season and collect donations from companies and fans in Baltimore.

"It's something we've been doing 23 years," Orioles director of public relations Monica Pence Barlow said. "It started really as an Orioles Wives initiative with the Orioles, and now we've pulled in WJZ-TV. They've been a big partner with us the last couple of years. They bring out their anchors and hosts to help us collect money, and they promote it on TV, which is great, and that helps get the word out.

"And now fans have really come to expect it because we do it every year, and they've been incredibly generous with money and with food donations."

Fans were allowed to bring any non-perishable food item or a cash donation to any of the three Orioles games from July 31 to Aug. 2. OriolesREACH, not so coincidentally, selected this past weekend for the food drive due to the expected increase in attendance with the Boston Red Sox coming into town for a three-game series.

The Orioles Wives were also given a tour of the Food Bank's warehouse to see all of the food on the shelves, as well as the constant need for more donations toward the community. It was an event, Barlow said, that really put it all into perspective.

"The Food Bank has been very gracious, and they tell us over and over again how much they appreciate us doing this every year," she said. "The need that's there really sort of hits home and makes you realize that there are a lot of people that benefit from the program."

Orioles director of promotions and community initiatives Kristen Schultz stressed the importance of the yearly cash donations, saying that the Food Bank can turn one donated dollar into four dollars worth of food. Schultz also said each year the donations have increased, a trend she'd like to keep going as long as the event is running.

"My goal, personally, is, each year, to continue to grow the numbers," Schultz said. "And they have, definitely on the money side. Every year, we've at least matched or increased the money from last year that we've collected."

Both Barlow and Schultz said the totals from this year's collection are not yet known, and Schultz said it usually takes a few days after the event to accumulate the total amount of food and money donated. Last year the event brought in over 5,200 pounds of food and more than $30,000. And judging by the attendance at Camden Yards over the weekend, and the amount of red buckets and boxes throughout the park, this year's totals should be just as high as in years past.

"It's amazing to see everybody come together," Schultz said. "When you have a full house like this, the energy is always up and I think everybody's in a better mood, as well. It's so good to see the Orioles doing something good in the community."

Brian Eller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.