The 2023 holiday season officially kicked off yesterday with Thanksgiving, but the Nationals got a head start to the season of giving earlier this week.
This week Washington Nationals Philanthropies hosted Turkeypalooza, its now sixth annual food distribution event across the D.C. area.
“Turkeypalooza is an annual event that Washington Nationals Philanthropies hosts, in partnership with BetMGM now for the second year,” said Tal Alter, CEO of Nationals Philanthropies. “We're going to distribute 900 turkeys over the next few days, which means 3,600 different meal units being presented to members of the community who are unfortunately food insecure. At this time of year, it's just incredibly important for everyone to be able to celebrate the holidays with dignity, and food is the fundamental piece of that.”
The event started on Monday in front of the BetMGM sportsbook outside Nationals Park with volunteers handing out turkeys and bags filled with shelf-stable items and fresh produce. Nats outfielder Stone Garrett was even in attendance to help out with the distribution.
“Our fans support us all season long, so to give back to the community, it means a lot,” Garrett said. “It means a lot, especially during the holiday season.”
“First of all, unfortunately, it's a testament to the need,” Alter said. “But also, we're incredibly proud of playing the role that we do to make sure that we are playing our civic part in making sure that our neighbors, our community has what they need in the times when they need it most.”
New this year, winter gear, including hats and gloves, was also provided to families as the distribution grows year by year. This year, a total of 900 turkeys and enough food for 3,600 meals was distributed across four locations in three days.
“This was born out of our work at the Youth Baseball Academy in Fort Dupont Park,” Alter said. “And we've always thought about our work there from the perspective of we want to do the most good we possibly can. And our expertise is running youth development programs with baseball as a vehicle. We want to see children grow to be happy and healthy, and we think baseball is a great fundamental tool to help with that.
“Whether we have created baseball players or not is frankly inconsequential. It's fun to see kids play baseball. But it's much more important to know that they're healthy, they're happy, they see a bright future for themselves. And so based on that, what can we do to make sure that our kids have what they need during the holiday season, their families? But then also the residents of neighborhoods right around the academy facility. So we did this turkey drive six years ago now. And now we're six years in. We partnered with BetMGM last year to grow it. Now we're reaching four sites: one in Ward 6, one and Ward 7 at the academy, we're in Ward 8 at Ferebee-Hope KIPP Legacy Prep there, and then in Oakcrest Community Center in Prince George's County. So 900 turkeys, again 3,600 meals. We feel proud of that and honestly want to do even more.”
“It's awesome,” Garrett said. “To interact with the people of D.C., get to know the energy that they give off and just to see our fans that support us. It's great to interact with them.
“Just to give back to people that maybe are going through hard times and just taking the burden off of purchasing a turkey for Thanksgiving, so they can spend time with their family just eating a turkey over Thanksgiving.”
A few young fans ran up to the young outfielder for hugs, high-fives and a picture, demonstrating the impact a player’s mere presence has on a single event and the whole community.
“Growing up, I saw Matt Kemp stretching and that's the moment I knew I wanted to be a big league player,” Garrett said. “So if I can be that for one kid, whether it's stretching on the field or giving his family a turkey or just interacting with them around D.C., it means a lot.”
“It's always been meaningful to us to work closely with the players,” Alter said. “Very few of them are from here. So to have Stone here in the offseason is great. But it's also important to us to show our players even if you're not from here, this is your community, too. And for them to be able to participate in what we do, whether it's Josiah over at the academy or Stone here today or frankly any member of the Nationals clubhouse, we appreciate their support. And it's meaningful I think to the community too to see them out.”
While the families helped by Turkeypalooza are thankful for the Nats’ generosity, the outfielder is thankful for his improving health this offseason. Garrett, who turned 28 on Wednesday, had his season cut short with a fractured left fibula in late August but is now walking without a boot.
“I'm thankful for our trainers, who are getting me back healthy,” he said. “And my friends, family and fans that have supported me through this process.”
Rehabbing in D.C., Monday was actually the first day he was able to run on a treadmill, an important milestone in his recovery as he aims to return in time for spring training.
“Good. I started running today on the treadmill, so we're getting there,” Garrett said. “It's a process for sure. But day by day, we're getting better.
“Good signs. I had a doctor appointment last week and he was impressed with the progress we made. So spring training is definitely the goal.”