"It's been a very successful year," said Jayne Churchmack, the Indians' executive director of community outreach. The Indians' charitable efforts don't end with the last out of the season. Last week, the Indians, along with Progressive Insurance, held a Food Drive on Gateway Plaza outside Progressive Field and generated 70,000 meals for needy families served by the Cleveland Foodbank. And on Dec. 11, designated hitter Travis Hafner will hold his annual "Pronkta Claus" Toy Drive from 7-9 p.m. ET at SouthPark Mall in Strongsville, Ohio. Fans donating a new or unwrapped toy with a minimum value of $10 will receive an autograph from Hafner and left-hander Aaron Laffey. The toys will be donated to Beech Brook, a local foster care adoption agency. CIC generated $6,500 worth of toys through the drive last year. Established in 1989, CIC is the self-sustaining charitable arm of the Cleveland Indians. It concentrates on creative collaborations with partnering organizations that focus on youth education and recreation. Since its inception, CIC has donated more than $5.5 million to youth-oriented agencies and organizations throughout Northeast Ohio. CIC has impacted countless children and raised millions of dollars to support local educational, recreational and humanitarian causes. In 2008, that impact was felt on the sandlots of inner-city Cleveland, as 4,500 youth ages 5-18 played baseball or softball free of charge, thanks largely to CIC's continued partnership with the Cleveland Baseball Federation (CBF). CIC and CBF have helped grow youth participation in baseball and softball by administering the Larry Doby Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and Rookie League to youngsters who do not have the financial means to participate otherwise. CBF runs the programs with the purpose of providing kids with positive team-oriented activities that keep them off the streets and challenge them academically and physically. This year, CIC donated $125,000 to CBF, as well as $150,000 to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and $90,000 to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland. "We've really worked hard to reach these kids," Churchmack said, "to show how much CIC cares about them." And those boys' and girls' hard work paid off. The Cleveland RBI Junior Boys team advanced to the RBI World Series in Compton, Calif. "Most of those kids hadn't even left the county, but they were able to get on a plane and fly across the country," Churchmack said. "It was just a great experience for them." Those boys were the focus of CIC's biggest fundraiser of the year, when they were center stage at the Indians Hall of Fame Celebration at Heritage Park. The event featured an autograph session with the entire Indians roster and a mingling session with former Indians and MLB alumni, as well as the 2008 inductees of the Indians Hall of Fame -- Mike Hargrove and family representatives of Joe Gordon. The event raised nearly 60 percent of CIC's funds. The program was slightly tweaked after last year's inaugural event, making the boys and girls affected a more prominent part of the program, so that those who donated could see the immediate benefits of what they spent, Churchmack said. Another major event was June's RBI baseball and health education clinic at Progressive Field, when 1,000 youngsters from Cleveland's inner city ran the bases, played catch, got hitting tips, were taught the values of proper nutrition, met Indians players and coaches and had a full-scale baseball game. But it wasn't all just following up on the success of 2007. New for 2008, CIC established a $50,000 youth baseball and softball grant program. With support from Majestic Steel, the Baseball Diamond Improvement Grant will benefit Northeast Ohio teams and leagues in need of new bleachers, backstops, fences and other equipment. CIC doesn't plan on stopping there, though. There is always room for improvement, and there is no such thing as helping too many people or raising too much money. So CIC has hit the recruiting trail, so to speak, to get more youth involved with its programs, Churchmack said. "We're going to try to get as many kids engaged in our programs," Churchmack said, "so that we can have even more success."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.