Local charities win thanks to Indians

Local charities win thanks to Indians

CLEVELAND -- The Indians' struggles on the field in 2009 are well-documented.

Off the field, however, the Tribe's charitable efforts remained second to none.

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Through Cleveland Indians Charities, the Tribe continued to assist the Cleveland Baseball Federation, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District's high school baseball and softball programs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland and the Majestic Steel Diamond Improvement Grant.

But in '09, the Indians branched out into new territory with the creation of two ambitious programs. The "Fill the House for Charity" initiative benefited 13 local charitable organizations, while the "Kick It" program raised money to find a cure for pediatric and adolescent and young adult cancer.

"It was just a terrific effort by many," said Bob DiBiasio, the club's vice president of public relations. "Never has it been more important for a collaborative effort than today. Institutions in our city need to really join forces and become teammates in a wide variety of assistance for those who are in need of a helping hand."

With "Fill the House" -- a program that was the first of its kind and will soon be replicated by other professional teams, including the NBA's Cavaliers -- the Indians found a creative way to raise money for charities through group ticket sales.

The 13 selected charities were each sold discounted tickets to a Wednesday home game at Progressive Field. The charities then sold the tickets to their particular game and pocketed $5 per ticket sold. Additionally, the charities received $1 for each and every ticket sold to that particular game.

In addition to funding, the program provided exposure for the charities. At each of the 13 Wednesday games, that day's selected charity had a representative throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and another singing the national anthem. The charity also was given in-game and television mentions, as well as an in-game check presentation.

"It was a tremendous success," DiBiasio said. "To provide tremendous exposure and raise significant dollars in this current climate was a win-win for everybody."

Each of the 13 charities -- the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland, the Salvation Army of Greater Cleveland, Our Lady of the Wayside, the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio, the Center for Families and Children, the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Special Olympics Ohio, Shoes and Clothes for Kids, the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland and the United Way of Cleveland -- raised a minimum of $19,000. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society hauled in the most by raising $32,499 through "Fill the House."

For 2010, the Indians are inviting all 13 of the above charities to participate again.

"We felt it important to allow somebody who ventured into this the first time to have a chance to maximize it a second time," DiBiasio said. "But as we move forward, we'll have a contest, of sorts, where the sales leaders will come back for another try, and we'll add new [organizations] as we move forward in 2011."

Another program the Indians added in '09 was "Kick It," which pairs the club with an organization known as Flashes of Hope to sell kickball kits for $29.95 through kick-it.org and all Indians Team Shops. The kits have everything folks young and old need to set up a kickball game, and all proceeds benefit pediatric and young adult and adolescent cancer research.

What's more, the Tribe allowed kids to register its kickball teams at Indians.com, with several teams selected to play a game of kickball on Progressive Field after Sunday home games in August and September.

Next year, these games will continue to be held throughout the season.

"We're going to bring it back bigger and stronger," DiBiasio said. "It is one of those programs where you have immediate reward and satisfaction as you interact with these youngsters down on the field. It really is one of the most special programs that we've become involved with."

The Indians, of course, are involved with many charity programs every year. "Fill the House" and "Kick It" are merely added to a slate that already includes, among other things, the aforementioned Cleveland Indians Charities initiatives and the Tribe's "High Achievers Kids Club," in which more than 12,500 students registered, free of charge, to win rewards, including tickets, based on grades, attendance and reading.

This holiday season, the charitable efforts continue. Last week, the Indians paired with Tyson Foods to donate more than 35,000 pounds of protein products to the Cleveland Foodbank and more than 20 other local nonprofit food agencies. The Indians also generated more than 7,000 meals for the Cleveland Foodbank through their annual food drive on Gateway Plaza.

On Dec. 3, the annual "Pronkta Claus Toy Drive" will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. ET at Summit Mall in Akron, Ohio, with Travis "Pronk" Hafner signing autographs for all those who donate a new or unwrapped toy (or cash) valued at $10 or more.

Year-round, the Indians continue to find ways to give back to the community.

"We feel proud of our players, of our organization and how we were able to make an impact off the field," DiBiasio said. "We look forward to doing bigger and better things in the coming season."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.