Local athletes are lending a hand through these tough times

Sports are at the mercy of the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to contain it. Other than racing and golf, we still don’t know when we’ll have live games in the U.S. again. Spectators attending games any time soon seems like a fantasy.

I’ve had my fill of speculation about when we’ll see games again and what they’ll look like. The uncertainty is exhausting. What-ifs are no fun. Realism about the return of sports is on one side of a fine line from cynicism.

Instead, I’ll focus on what athletes for the local major professional teams are doing now to aid COVID-19 relief. It’s disheartening that we can’t watch them play. We can recognize their efforts to help, which are encouraging for those of us who worry about the toll of COVID-19.

I contacted the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and United to find out what their players are doing to assist COVID-19 relief efforts. Listed below are some details about those endeavors. At the end of the article you’ll find contact information for the highlighted organizations.

· Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan donated $50,000 to the Atlanta Community Food Bank and $50,000 to the Giving Kitchen. The Food Bank supports Georgians who suffer from hunger and food insecurity. The Giving Kitchen provides financial assistance to food-service workers, based on financial need.

Credit: David Dermer

Credit: David Dermer

· Falcons pass rusher Dante Fowler pledged $100,000 for the #ATLSTRONG FUND, created by the office of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in partnership with United Way of Greater Atlanta. The fund's purpose is to support food security for children and seniors, homeless individuals, small businesses and Atlantans suffering financial hardship because of the pandemic.

· Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, a Rockdale County native, partnered with Zaxby's to deliver more than 5,000 meals to area first responders through April and May. Jarrett and American Family Insurance say they'll provide nearly 5,000 more meals to first responders during May.

· Former University of Georgia star Todd Gurley signed with the Falcons last month and announced that he would donate meals to low-income Atlantans via Hungry@Home. Gurley's donations also will benefit Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities and workers at Northside and Piedmont hospitals.

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· Braves slugger Freddie Freeman and his wife, Chelsea, matched Ryan's donations of $50,000 each to the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Giving Kitchen. Freeman also pledged $25,000 for The Salvation Army.

· Braves pitcher Cole Hamels' foundation donated $25,000 to Cobb Schools Foundation. The money is to support digital learning with computers and internet access for under-resourced families.

· Braves relief pitcher Mark Melancon gave $5,000 to the Home Plate Project. That's the team's effort to prepare meals in the kitchens at its ballpark and distribute with the help of several community assistance organizations.

· Hawks players John Collins and Clint Capela participated in a FIFA 20 video game tournament to raise funds for Feeding America. Collins also has donated money to support pop-up grocery stores in underserved areas through the Hawks/State Farm partnership with Goodr.

· Hawks point guard Trae Young donated memorabilia to a raffle for the "Athletes for Relief" COVID-19 relief fund. Young also participated in two video game tournaments with prize pools that went to charities supporting coronavirus relief.

· Atlanta United players Adam Jahn, Alec Kann and Josef Martinez have used their social media platforms to raise awareness about COVID-19 relief efforts and encourage donations. Among the organizations featured are Meals on Wheels, YMCA, Piedmont Atlanta Hospital and United Way's "Wash for ATL" t-shirt fundraiser.

The teams those athletes work for are operating their own COVID-19 relief efforts.

· The Braves have committed to providing 600 meals per week from local restaurants to workers at hospitals and 2,000 meals three days per week via a food truck with the Home Plate Project. The team also used old t-shirt inventory to provide masks for hospital and community partners. A Braves spokesperson said a request from a member of the team's season-ticket program started an effort to deliver personal protective equipment to Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany, which has one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S.

· Arthur Blank, the franchise owner of the Falcons and Atlanta United, has pledged nearly $5.4 million for coronavirus relief efforts through his foundation. That includes $5 million for a COVID-19 fund established by United Way of Greater Atlanta and Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

I’ve done my small part for COVID-19 relief by supporting two local programs. I gave cash to the Atlanta Community Food Bank because it says money for wholesale purchases goes further than food donations. I also volunteered with the Food4Life Atlanta Survival Program, which delivers free groceries to people in need (with strict sanitation and social distance protocols).

Here’s how to contact some of the highlighted organizations to volunteer, donate or find help:

Atlanta Community Food Bank: www.acfb.org or 404-892-9822.

Giving Kitchen: thegivingkitchen.org or 404-254-1227.

#ATLSTRONG FUND: atlstrong.org

Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities: armhc.org or 404-315-1133.

Salvation Army Metro Atlanta: salvationarmyatlanta.org or 404-486-2900

Cobb Schools Foundation: cobbschoolsfoundation.org or 770-426-3390.

Feeding America: feedingamerica.org or 800-771-2303.

Goodr: goodr.co or info@goodr.co

Athletes for Relief: athletesrelief.org

United Way of Greater Atlanta: unitedwayatlanta.org or 404-527-7200.

Food4Life Atlanta Survival Program: atlsurvival.org/food/