The Worcester Red Sox' 2023 “Geddy Good Guy” award winner Narciso Crook and “Heart of the Heart” Community Spirit award winner Ryan Fitzgerald climbed aboard the WooSox Foundation Care-A-Van, presented by Bank of America, on Monday, September 25. As part of the 3rd annual "Thank You Care-A-Van" initiative, they lent
The Worcester Red Sox' 2023 “Geddy Good Guy” award winner Narciso Crook and “Heart of the Heart” Community Spirit award winner Ryan Fitzgerald climbed aboard the WooSox Foundation Care-A-Van, presented by Bank of America, on Monday, September 25. As part of the 3rd annual "Thank You Care-A-Van" initiative, they lent a hand at local food pantries, tested their football skills, and connected with different organizations in the community to thank them for their support in the WooSox’ third season.
For the first stop, the Care-A-Van visited St. John’s Food for the Poor Program behind Polar Park on Temple Street. Crook and Fitzgerald brought in bags of food to donate and conversed with several of the institution’s patrons, some of whom happened to be WooSox fans.
The Care-A-Van then traveled back to Polar Park where Crook and Fitzy made a radio appearance with Hank Stolz on “Talk of the Commonwealth” in the Sherwood’s Diner. When asked about playing in Worcester this season, Crook stressed the importance of using his platform as a professional athlete to make an impact.
“Being part of the community, being immersed and getting to know the community, getting to know the area, the people—I think it’s just as important as playing,” he said. “That way they get to know us and we get to know them. For me, it’s a huge part of every team that I’ve played for, just to be immersed and be able to be a part of it. Our team here does such a great job of getting guys together to come out and give back. It’s just fun.”
From the Sherwood’s Diner, the Care-A-Van headed to Elm Park Elementary School to stock the food pantry that the WooSox helped create in collaboration with the Juniper Outreach Foundation, a local nonprofit that specifically combats food insecurity in Worcester Public Schools. After bringing in bags of food, Crook and Fitzy read stories and fielded questions from students.
Julie McDonald, executive director of the Juniper Outreach Foundation, said the WooSox' assistance with the pantry means that kids can go home with food for nights and weekends, which is not always the norm.
“The WooSox have been unbelievably generous,” she said. “They got our pantry painted for us before it first opened up, they stocked our shelves, and here they are again. They came in today with more food for the kids, and their support has been unbelievable.”
Having said goodbye to the Elm Park students and staff, the Care-A-Van drove to South High School to speak with student-athletes about pursuing careers in sports. In an informal conversation, Crook and Fitzy answered questions from students while sharing anecdotes from their own journeys in professional baseball.
After breaking for lunch at the new Jersey Mike’s that opened down the street from Polar Park, the next stop took Crook and Fitzy to El Buen Samaritano Food Program on Piedmont Street, where they organized food items. According to Mari Gonzalez, EBS executive director, the program started as a food pantry but has since transformed into a community center that provides clothing, hygiene items, and baby items, in addition to food for those in need.
“Partnerships like [the WooSox] coming in and collaborating means a lot to me because one of the things at Buen Samaritano that I always say is that together we can do more,” she said. “Together, we’re stronger. Together, we unite. We can make our community stronger, especially the Worcester community.”
In line with Gonzalez’s sentiment, the Worcester community banded together in a unique way for the Care-A-Van stop that followed. With players from the College of the Holy Cross football team, Crook and Fitzy visited the UMass Memorial Medical Center’s University Campus to meet with patients and hand out tickets for the EBW Football Classic this Saturday, September 30 where Holy Cross will face off against Harvard at Polar Park.
Later, the Care-A-Van stopped by Holy Cross’s Hart Center at the Luth Athletic Complex, so Crook and Fitzy could trade in their baseball mitts for football gloves. In a series of challenges, the WooSox players and Woofster the WonderDog went up against the Holy Cross football players to catch a punt return, throw a touchdown from 30 yards, and punt the ball as far as possible down the field at the indoor practice facility.
For the day’s final stop, Crook and Fitzy made their way to Veterans Inc. to meet and chat with veterans in attendance. According to Veterans Inc. President and CEO Vin Perrone, the building produces three meals a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for veterans and their families around Worcester. The nonprofit organization located in Worcester also provides certain services that veterans may have difficulty finding elsewhere.
“We have one of the first-of-its-kind in the country, a suicide prevention program for our community,” Perrone said. “These are just some of the things we do. We do employment in training. We have a healthcare navigator who will help you with any problems that you may have health-wise, we can get you the right doctors and get you the right insurance. We have a housing navigator so when you’re done [at Veterans Inc.] we’ll help you find a good place to live and a safe place to live. There’s just more and more things that we do—this is just a few. That’s what we do, and we just want to say thank you for being part of the community that supports us because we just can’t do it alone.”
On the way back to the ballpark, Crook and Fitzy both noted the importance of community involvement and how impactful the WooSox Foundation's "Thank You Care-A-Van" initiative is for both them as players and the City of Worcester as a whole.
“It’s super cool what the WooSox do for the community,” Crook said. “I got a little taste of it during the season, but just today was a jam-packed day of full-out hey, this is what we’re involved in. It opened my eyes a lot to what we as a team were doing. [It] was a cool, long day, but it was very worth it.”