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Baseball Player Goes to Bat for Wildfire Victims

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Ryan Braun is one of the most decorated Major League Baseball players of the last two decades.

The post Baseball Player Goes to Bat for Wildfire Victims appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Ryan Braun is one of the most decorated Major League Baseball players of the last two decades. He is only the fourth Jewish ballplayer to be named Most Valuable Player in the history of Major League Baseball. (Sandy Koufax received the honor in 1963, Al Rosen “the Hebrew hammer” in 1953, and Hank Greenberg in 1935 and 1940.)

The last time Braun played for a baseball team in California was in 2002 with the Granada Hills High School Highlanders. And even though he has played his entire career with the Milwaukee Brewers, he hasn’t lost sight of his Southern California roots. He’s shown it every day with a charity he co-founded three years ago—California Strong. 

November of 2018 was a rough time in southern California. There was a horrific mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks on November 7. That was immediately followed by the Woolsey Fire that would rage for the next two weeks. Both events wreaked havoc on the residents of the western San Fernando Valley and Ventura County. 

But out of those dark times came California Strong, and that charity continues to raise money for wildfire and tragedy victims to this day.

The charity’s origins began with a text thread between Braun and his fellow Southern Californians on the Brewers Christian Yelich (a Westlake High School alumnus), Mike Moustakas (a Chatsworth High School alumnus), Brewers executive Mike Attanasio (a Harvard-Westlake alumnus) and California native (and then-Los Angeles Rams quarterback) Jared Goff.

“My co-founders and I were in a group text checking on each other, quickly realizing the fallout from these events,” Braun told the Journal. “We wanted to do our part to help. It’s evolved into something far better than any of us could have dreamed of.”

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California Strong has already raised over $2.6 million that has been distributed to more than 1,400 survivors of tragedies. 

“It started with the fires and the shooting,” Braun said. “And it turned into just trying to support people in our state after tragedies and natural disasters. Unfortunately and inevitably those things will continue to occur, whether it’s a fire, a shooting or [an] earthquake.”

California Strong also raised funds for the families of victims of the 2019 Conception boat fire near Santa Barbara that killed 34 people. 

The California Strong website has a straightforward application for victims to seek relief. Their current outreach is for wildfire survivors only at this time. But when it comes time for the distribution of funds, the founders have personally handed the checks to relief-seekers, in partnership with the Southeast Ventura County YMCA. 

Their largest fundraising events have been star-studded celebrity softball games at Pepperdine University in 2019 and early 2020. The 2019 edition featured Adam Sandler, Jamie Foxx, Mira Sorvino, Rainn Wilson and Robin Thicke all taking the field. Even UCLA alumnus and Basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Miller proved to be a stellar first baseman. 

After the 2020 celebrity softball game, the pandemic made fundraising efforts much more difficult for the charity. But they continued to raise funds through merchandise sales. 

This past year, during what seemed to some as a safer gathering time, California Strong hosted a drive-in movie night in Malibu. It was well-attended and had a family-friendly atmosphere featuring the screening of the film “Major League.” 

The most touching moment of the movie night was a testimonial by a family who had been displaced by the Woolsey fire and received relief funds from California Strong. 

Although Braun has not played baseball since the shortened 2020 baseball season, he remains busy as a father of three in Malibu. But Braun and fellow co-founder Attanasio are still actively creating fundraising campaigns. 

“It’s fire season throughout the state of California,” Attanasio said in a video post on social media with Braun. “We need your help to donate funds directly to victims as soon as possible.” The charity continues to point out frightening statistics about why their contributions are so important.

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“California has averaged 5,500+ annual fires over the past five years, affecting around 400,000 acres yearly. In 2021, there have already been 6,574 fires, affecting over 1.3 million acres,” the charity posted on Instagram.

Attanasio told the Journal that there are some recipients of relief checks who tell the charity that California Strong was the first to deliver aid. It’s a testament to the importance of charity as a social safety net for fellow Californians, and the haste at which the charity can act. While any given tragedy will result in cash disbursements from the government, and from insurance claims, those can take months, if not years to arrive and be put to use by victims. 

“We’re doing this so we can be prepared for when the next thing happens,” Attanasio said. “And it will happen again, unfortunately. It’s fire season. When that next fire happens, we will be ready as soon as it happens to help with financial relief for those who need it.”

And indeed it is happening again right now. The Caldor Fire in Northern California has already destroyed almost 500 buildings and burned over 300 square miles of the area just west of Lake Tahoe. As of September 5, it is only 43% contained. 

The charity sent out a message soliciting donations and advertising merchandise sales, saying, “Our state is going through another devastating fire with the Caldor Fire in NorCal.” Even though they aren’t hosting any in-person fundraising events due to the Delta variant surge, they are going to keep doing all they can to support survivors throughout their home state. 

What had just started as a simple group text and determination to make a difference for fellow Californians in need has now turned into something much bigger. 

What had just started as a simple group text and determination to make a difference for fellow Californians in need has now turned into something much bigger. 

“We just want to be able to support people emotionally and financially,” Braun said. “We’re so grateful for the support and it’s had a far greater impact than we could have hoped for.”

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Brian Fishbach is a music journalist in Los Angeles. 

The post Baseball Player Goes to Bat for Wildfire Victims appeared first on Jewish Journal.

Source: Jewish Journal https://jewishjournal.com/community/340430/baseball-player-goes-to-bat-for-wildfire-victims/

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