New Los Angeles Angels Manager Joe Maddon and his Respect 90 Foundation helped bring a warm dinner to underserved individuals and families in Orange County Wednesday night as he aims to expand outreach to the homeless in Southern California.
Maddon, 65, is one of the most respected managers in baseball. He managed the Chicago Cubs when the franchise won its first World Series in over a century in 2016. He also spent nine seasons managing competitive Tampa Bay Rays teams, including the first Tampa Bay team to ever make it to a World Series in 2008.
But what many may not know about Maddon is that he has a heart for the homeless and desire to help those in need. It was a desire that was instilled in him from an early age.
“I grew up Catholic. I grew up in a parochial school. You don't even realize sometimes all the impact that's being made on you,” Maddon told The Christian Post in a phone interview. “Back then with the nuns specifically, we used to bring in money to raise and give to the poor children to buy food.”
“It's just unfortunate that schools like that are less prominent than they had been,” he said of parochial institutions.
Maddon explained that his dad was known for watching charity advertisements on television, writing down the addresses and sending $5 or $10.
“So I think I get some of this from my pop,” he reasoned. “But when you grow up like I did — raised in a parochial school by nuns in a tightly traditioned town like Hazelton — it is something that becomes part of your fabric.”
Maddon’s signing with the Angels this offseason has brought him full-circle. He returns to the place where his motivation for working with the homeless was born before he ever became a big-league manager.
“It was born of me riding my bike up and down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) between Sunset Beach and Huntington and Newport, where I would see a lot of homeless folks pushing their lives in shopping carts,” Maddon explained. “That really bummed me out.”
As a coach for the Angels during the 1990s and 2000s, Maddon recalled how he would think about the possibility of what he could do with the big platform he'd have if he was ever given a full-time big-league managerial job.
That opportunity came in 2006, his first year as the manager of the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In 2006, Maddon's "Thanksmas" events were born.
Thanksmas events, he said, are usually held around the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But some are held at other times during the year.
He said Thanksmas is centered around food. He opened up about how cooking and eating were central components of his upbringing in a Polish-Italian Catholic family.
“There was always this warm, comfortable feeling being there and there was a sense of security, belonging and family by sitting at the dinner table,” he explained. “So what better way to tell these folks that we care than by sharing your dinner with them.”
In Florida, Maddon said he and volunteers from the Rays organization would often cook food at Tropicana Field to distribute at Thanksmas events across the west coast of Florida.
The events were coordinated in conjunction with several local ministries, including The Salvation Army and Metropolitan Ministries.
“We went all the way down to Naples and Fort Myers,” Maddon said. “We infiltrated [Boston] Red Sox territory, which was really important at that time.”
At typical Thanksmas events, Maddon and his team of volunteers serve essentially the same meal consisting of dishes from Maddon’s heritage: spaghetti and meatballs with sausage and pierogi.
Over the last decade-plus, as Maddon has moved on from Tampa, he has operated his Respect 90 Foundation to bless homeless children and families across the nation.
He and his team of volunteers have held Thanksmas events at countless homeless shelters and related ministry facilities in states like Illinois, Florida, Arizona and in Maddon’s hometown of Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
Returning to Los Angeles this offseason, Maddon wasted little time in expanding his foundation's reach in Southern California.
With just a couple weeks left before the team reports to Spring Training in Arizona, the Maddons and volunteers teamed up with Orange County Rescue Mission to bless residents at the Mission’s Village of Hope in Tustin, a 262-bed transitional housing facility built on a former military base for homeless men, women and children.
While Maddon and his team did not have the capacity to cook the meal for this occasion, the meal was donated by Louie’s by the Bay in Newport Beach.
“When we have time, which we do more in the offseason, we go buy the food, we cook the food and then we serve the food,” Maddon explained.
When he managed the Cubs from 2015 to 2019, Maddon said that his team of volunteers would cook out of the Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago with the help of a chef.
“The food was really good but it's a recipe born of my mom and my grandparents and my aunt,” he said. “I used to sit there and watch them cook. That is where this all came from.”
For future Thanksmas events in California, the plan is for him and his team to cook. But Maddon is still in search of a kitchen in the Southern California area for the team to use.
“When I was with the Rays, we used to cook out of Tropicana Field,” he said. “We would serve for the whole week. We would cook enough food in one day to serve Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of that whole week.”
The most time-consuming part, he said, is making the meatballs.
“When you are making 1,000 meatballs, you need a bunch of rollers,” he added.
As for the residents at the Village of Hope, Orange County Rescue Mission President Jim Palmer said there was much anticipation in the day leading up to the dinner. Residents were sure to don Angels colors and shirts, he said.
Rescue Mission reached out to Respect 90 Foundation in early January and heard back almost immediately about Maddon’s willingness to hold a Thanksmas event there.
“When you're working with celebrities and others, there are usually lots of rules and policies and procedures,” Palmer stated. “There is none of that with them. They were like, ‘We'll bring everything that's needed. Just tell us how many people and please feel free to participate.’ They didn't put anything on us. And that's truly amazing. It shows the character and organization of Joe and his team and how they're tackling this kind of thing.”
The Village of Hope provides individuals and families with a months-long restorative program, medical clinics, counseling, playgrounds and other needs. According to Palmer, the facility is unique in that it helps single fathers and their children as well as single mothers.
“When I talk to people that are coming off the street that have been homeless, part of their real heartache is the fact that they don't feel human,” Palmer detailed. “They don't feel human because people don't want to look at them. They don't want to give them eye contact. They express that kind of feeling. It breaks your heart to hear it.”
“In this particular case, you have well-known people that are not just writing a check or sending a video encouraging. They're actually coming in and volunteering and are there to talk to the homeless and hear their stories and share that time with them,” Palmer continued.
“That can be life-changing for people. That can be the spark that encourages someone to stick with the program and not go back to using drugs, to make a good decision. It's very powerful when God works through individuals like that. And so I'm expecting great things to come out of this.”
While there are over 260 beds at the Village of Hope, Palmer said that Orange County Rescue Mission has over 700 people under the roofs of its 16 campuses.
Ultimately, Maddon hopes Thanksmas events inspire others in the community to do their part to help the less fortunate.
“Homelessness is being so amplified and talked about in the L.A. area right now,” he noted. “I definitely want to be sure that we are out there attempting to make a difference. I think a lot of times we may think we are just one person. 'What difference do we make?' That’s the whole point. If enough folks get beyond that thought process and just jump into the fray, you can make a difference.”
Although Maddon is now with the Angels, he assured that Respect 90 Foundation is still involved in Florida. In early January, Maddon held a fundraiser in the Tampa area where about $100,000 was raised to create an art program for the homeless nonprofit Metropolitan Ministries.