When a natural disaster hits the United States, the communities affected generally look to others for assistance. And whether it’s the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross, help is usually on the way quickly. However, after the dust settles and those agencies go home, it can be an even bigger challenge to return to a sense of normalcy. The younger members of communities, especially, might feel like their lives will never get back to normal and, even worse, that they have no control over it.
That’s where organizations like Pitch In for Baseball (PIFB) come in. Founded just outside of Philadelphia in 2005 by David Rhode, PIFB collects new and gently used baseball and softball equipment and redistributes it to schools, leagues and communities in need. Rhode said he decided to start the organization after he got into coaching his own kids when they were young.
“The simple thought process was, ‘I wonder what would happen if we could connect people who had extra equipment with those people who needed it,’” Rhode said. “That’s really the premise the organization was founded upon. We wanted to try to help more kids play baseball and softball.”
In order to do that, PIFB primarily relies on donations of either equipment or money. Contributions generally come from a couple of different sources, including Rhode’s favorite group: other kids.
“Most of the equipment is actually collected by kids,” Rhode said. “They might have a community service requirement to graduate middle school or high school. They may be doing their bar or bat mitzvah. They may be completing an Eagle Scout project. Or they might just be a kid who loves baseball and wants to help other kids. We’ve had 5-year-old kids having birthday parties say ‘Instead of a present, please make a donation to PIFB.’
“For kids to get involved in philanthropy is really special for us. I really think that that can have a transformative effect on how they view the world and their ability to make a positive impact. I’m always excited when kids fundraise or collect equipment to help our organization. Those kinds of things really feel personal and special, and help us understand that what we’re doing has real meaning.”
Other donations come from other leagues and PIFB’s manufacturing partners, including Wilson Sporting Goods and Under Armour. Rhode said some of the organization’s operating budget also goes toward purchasing new equipment as needed.
“Leagues find out what we’re doing and turn over a certain percentage of their equipment each year, and they’re willing to make donations to us,” Rhode said. “We have some manufacturing partners and other folks that make in-kind donations to us.
“Folks are committed to sharing their passion for the game with others and this is a way to express it.”
In order to redistribute the equipment to communities that need it, PIFB accepts applications through its website. Recipients are then chosen based on two criteria: their programs must serve economically disadvantaged children and they must be able to cover the cost of shipping the equipment.
“The common denominator for all the groups that we assist is that they come from an under-resourced community,” Rhode said. “That might be a community that just doesn’t have the type of resources, financially or otherwise, to support programs like baseball and softball. Sometimes, they can be traditional urban programs. They could also be very rural programs that need assistance in order to put a program on the field.
“So, if they want to play, we’re basically their only chance.” Rhode said it has been especially rewarding to help those communities that have been affected by a natural disaster.
“I’d say the things that really stand out are the disaster-relief projects that we do,” Rhode said. “We helped 23 leagues recover after Hurricane Sandy and three different communities this past year that had devastating floods – West Virginia, Houston and Baton Rouge. We’ve done disaster-relief related work every single year since we’ve been in existence.
“Getting a community sort of back on its feet – I realize baseball and softball is probably just a small part of that, but playing a role in that feels like a real privilege to us and those are just really important projects.”
In 2008, PIFB expanded to include a school-based program to help schools and districts work around limited budgets and re-allocate funds to other areas, while reducing participation fees. More than 10 years after the organization’s efforts began, PIFB has been able to help more than half a million kids and has goals to provide equipment to 400 different groups across the United States and overseas in 2017.
“That personally exceeds the goals that I had when I established and initiated the work that we’re doing,” Rhode said. “To be able to grow the organization to have that kind of impact is really important.
“Last year, we did 352 projects and that was by far the largest number in our history. We’re already ahead of that pace for this year, so it’s very conceivable that we’ll have 400 different groups that receive equipment from us this year.”
One of those groups is Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), which received $25,000 worth of equipment from PIFB in February. Bill Molbeck, MPS Commissioner of Athletics and Academics, said the donation provided a great opportunity for his schools.
“I believe we received 60 boxes full of bats, batting helmets, gloves, catcher’s gear and bags,” Molbeck said. “Each school that had baseball or softball chose one of those sports to receive the equipment. A couple schools split equipment between the two sports. Twelve schools and 15 teams received equipment.
“My central budget and our schools’ budgets could not afford the new equipment we received. Also, many of our kids can’t even afford the basics to play the sport, like having a glove. So, even the new gloves were much appreciated.”
Rhode traveled to Milwaukee to present the equipment to Molbeck and student-athletes in a ceremony that resembled Christmas morning.
“We distributed it at a central location and, after a short presentation, had the players and coaches come up and open their presents,” Molbeck said. “They were very excited to receive the equipment. The smiles on their faces as they opened up box after box told the whole story.
“Two weeks later, coaches at our spring coaches’ meeting were still talking about how great it was to receive the equipment. Hopefully, the snow melts so they can get out and use it.”
Utilizing the equipment is the very least that Rhode hopes will happen after a group receives a donation from PIFB, and he has been doing research to gauge the reach of his organization.
“In simplest terms, it gives them the chance to play and once you get a chance to play, what we’re seeing is a number of different positive outcomes,” Rhode said. “We track, especially with our school-based programs, attendance and grade performance. We’re seeing that 70 percent of the kids, roughly, have an increase in attendance and a similar number have an increase in grade performance.
“So, it really shows you what can happen when kids become more engaged at school and we’re really delighted by that. We just enjoy seeing that kind of a positive impact – kids getting to be kids and kids who otherwise couldn’t play getting a chance to take the field.”
Juli Doshan is a former member of the NFHS Publications and Communications Department and now lives in Washington, D.C.