TORONTO -- In preparation for their upcoming 32nd annual food drive, the Lady Jays -- a group comprised of Blue Jays players' wives and girlfriends -- visited the North York Harvest Food Bank on Tuesday afternoon.
The Lady Jays Food Drive is the Blue Jays' longest-standing community initiative, raising awareness about hunger and food bank use in Canada. This season, the event is scheduled to take place on July 29-31 at Rogers Centre, with food collected throughout the weekend series supporting a local affiliate food bank in Toronto, and financial proceeds directed to Food Banks Canada in support of its national initiatives.
Tuesday's trip to the North York Harvest Food Bank consisted of an interactive tour of the venue to learn about the operations, and the Lady Jays assisted in sorting donated food. They sorted and packaged 556 pounds of food -- roughly enough to feed over 50 families -- in preparation for their marquee event, and what they hope is record-breaking numbers once again.
"It makes me take proud to know that we've had it going on for this long, and I know that the Lady Jays want to do everything and anything they can to help them out," said Leighann Loup, wife of Blue Jays left-handed reliever Aaron Loup. "The fact that we can help so many families and that the organization, as well as the wives before us, have done it for so many years, I want to make sure that we continue it."
Fans will be able to donate nonperishable food items, provide monetary donations and purchase grab bags containing autographed baseball caps signed by a player, coach or alumni, in addition to other Blue Jays related items. The 2015 Food Drive collected 2,742 pounds of food and raised over $34,000 in monetary donations. All monetary donations of up to $50,000 made this year will be matched by The Sprott Foundation, which is dedicated to addressing urgent human need, homelessness and hunger in Canada.
"Every year it's grown more, because people keep hearing about it," Loup added. "They see the wives around, and they go, 'This is awesome. They're taking a role in our community, helping us out. They're not just here supporting their husbands, they're here supporting us.' It's pretty neat that we can be a part of that."
Loup has participated in various initiatives with the Lady Jays the past few seasons, and her message to the Blue Jays' faithful heading down to Rogers Centre during the food drive was short and simple.
"Just bring out whatever you can bring," Loup said. "If you can bring out 50 cents, that helps a little bit. If you can bring one canned item, anything helps. There are so many families in need, and the food banks help all of Canada."
Food Banks Canada supports 10 provincial associations and more than 480 food banks nationally. Through Food Banks Canada national food sharing system, every dollar raised helps to acquire and share $20 worth of food and consumer products with individuals who require assistance, while the organization and its supporting network assists more than 850,000 Canadians who turn to food banks each month. Food Banks Canada works to alleviate hunger today and prevent hunger tomorrow, a goal the Blue Jays organization has stood behind and will continue to assist with going forward.
"Bringing a public face to the issue of hunger is important," said Graham Hill, manager of Annual Campaign and Strategic Initiatives for Food Banks Canada. "When an organization such as the Toronto Blue Jays stands behind it for as many years as they have, they really recognize the importance of the issue as a foundational one in society. We all know you can't concentrate on perform[ing] your best if you're doing it on an empty stomach and you're hungry, and the Jays get that.
"These are people that are coming from a position where their husbands and boyfriends are in the spotlight every single day. They don't have to step out and help, but they do, because they have big, caring hearts. I've had the pleasure of working with them the past couple of years, and they're amazing. The whole Blue Jays organization just gets it."
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.