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Nationals trade bats for food to help Wards 7, 8 during pandemic

The team's Youth Baseball Academy has become a community hub for food during the crisis.

WASHINGTON — The pandemic has seen all sorts of groups step up to the plate to help their communities. But, no one swings a bigger bat than the Washington Nationals.

The team’s community outreach arm: The Youth Baseball Academy has traded bats and gloves for food and essential needs. They are making a big difference in Wards 7 and 8.

The baseball fields are empty at the complex, but clubhouse is full. Every day they have staff on hand to give out free meals.

"We began to serve meals our selves at the academy and we began distribution of them back in March," Youth Baseball Academy executive director Jenn Cartland said.

The academy is the outreach arm that promotes a holistic approach to helping a community, teaching baseball and so much more.

Children and families come for academic services, food services and life lessons.

The pandemic threw the entire city a curveball, but the pain is worse for the less fortunate areas. Wards 7 and 8 already suffer from a lack of healthy food options. Food shortages in the pandemic made it worse.

"The first thing we wanted to do was make sure children had access to fresh healthy meals," Cartland said.  

This month they received a large donation of supermarket goods from Safeway and Ward 7 Councilman Vincent Gray. Now, the staff gives out care packages to the community filled with food, water, even toilet paper.

"We are the only Ward 7 farmers market year-round," Cartland said.

Even when not in a pandemic, The Field of Greens opens on Wednesdays. But considering the current situation, the academy staff prepackages the fruits and vegetables to give them out. Cartland said the need has only grown during the pandemic.

"We have now increased the number of produce bags going out to about 75 from about a dozen," Cartland said.

In these tough times, the youth baseball academy’s mission might be more important than ever.

"We want to help them to continue to not just survive through this crisis but thrive through this crisis," Cartland said.

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