Zimmermans grateful for new charity support, double goal

Ryan and Heather Zimmerman were a couple of weeks into their unexpected spring together at home with nowhere to go when they started wondering what they could do to help their community through the coronavirus pandemic.

They immediately thought of the doctors, nurses and other health care workers who were being overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, didn't have enough personal protective equipment and didn't have enough time to take care of themselves and their families while simultaneously taking care of patients.

So the Zimmermans reached out to a neighborhood friend who happened to be a doctor at INOVA Fairfax Hospital and asked what was needed. And then they got in touch with another friend who owns SuperFd, a local catering business that prepares healthy meals for athletes, and arranged for 150 meals a day to be sent to staff at the hospital's intensive care unit over Easter weekend.

That small act of kindness ultimately prompted the Zimmermans (with help from other D.C.-area athletes, plus the agency that represents him, CAA) to create Pros For Heroes, a fast-tracked charity organization designed to ensure that health care professionals have the tools they need to stay safe, including supplies, reliable equipment and healthy meals for themselves and their families.

Zimmerman-NLCS-Celebrion-Sidebar.jpgPros For Heroes officially debuted to the public six days ago, hours before Ryan Zimmerman co-hosted the Zoom chat that saw Nationals teammates and coaches re-watch Game 7 of the World Series and became a sudden phenomenon. They hoped the Zoom session would help spread the word about the charity, and help them reach a goal of $250,000 raised.

How big was the response? Within a day, they had to double the goal. And now, with nearly $310,000 donated, Ryan Zimmerman is starting to think about getting in touch with athletes from other teams in other cities to help them set up similar charitable organizations to assist their own communities.

"These are things that when we started we never even thought we'd have to have the conversation," he said. "But it's a good thing that we're having the conversation."

Speaking together on a conference call with reporters, the Zimmermans discussed how their seemingly small idea turned so big so quickly, and how grateful they are to those who have joined the cause.

The list includes big-name local athletes such as Nicklas Backstrom and Ryan Kerrigan, but it also includes roughly 1,300 regular folks who have contributed as little as $5 each to support health care providers during this crisis.

"I think people get intimidated by seeing the athlete donations, but I can't stress enough how important every dollar is," Ryan Zimmerman said. "A mask is $1. So that person who donated $5 might not think they're doing much, but they're literally giving five doctors or nurses a mask that can now protect them while they're going in to work on these patients who are infected. So every little bit counts. If this thing keeps going, it's going to be the community and the outpouring of support from everybody, not just the athletes."

In addition to the protective equipment and meals, Pros for Heroes has arranged for some funds to be given to nurses and other hospital workers who need assistance with child care while they work marathon shifts.

Doctors and nurses have let the Zimmermans know the emotional support sometimes is more meaningful than the financial support, especially the video chats the star athletes have set up with folks in the ICU to boost everyone's spirits.

"To be able to put a face with the people that you're hearing about each day, it's pretty emotional," Heather Zimmerman said. "You almost feel like you're not doing enough. We're providing them meals, and that's awesome. But you wish you could do something else. ...

"The things they have to do every day are something that only a special, select group of people can do. It's a special set of skills."

Ryan Zimmerman has been particularly impressed with the way other athletes, including John Wall, have reached out to him wanting to get involved. What originally started as a small group of athletes who already were friends has quickly expanded into something far greater.

"The community has done so much for us," he said. "Those are the fans that go to the games. These doctors, the nurses, the patients, the people who are getting hit by this, are the people that come watch us play. So the overwhelming consensus among us was we all wanted to do something. We just needed a way to come together. And I think that's what Pros for Heroes offers."

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