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IronPigs Charities, community supporters hit home run at winter caravan

Phillies Caravan
Phil Gianficaro
The Phillies Winter Caravan attracted nearly 500 attendees at ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks Thursday night.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — The question was asked.

Brian Pedersen’s immediate expression answered it.

And then his words underscored it.

“Without the funding of the IronPigs Charities, we might not be able to do some of the things we do,” said Pedersen, grant and development manager of Allentown-based Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living, or LVCIL.

“We rely on their funding to serve all those of all ages with disabilities.”

  • IronPigs Charities held its annual Community Grants event on Thursday night
  • 22 Greater Lehigh Valley organizations shared $75,000
  • The event included three players from the Philadelphia Phillies

Pedersen was among about 450 who braved the chill and rain to attend IronPigs Charities’ annual Phillies Winter Caravan at ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks on Thursday night.

The gathering celebrated the 22 recipients of the charities’ Community Grants, which this year totaled $75,000 to assist organizations that provide educational and recreational programs for Greater Lehigh Valley youth, including those in underserved areas or those who are differently abled.

This year’s total increased to $1,278,309 the cash grants donated since the Charities’ inception in 2007. Combined with charitable contributions from the IronPigs and Air Products Foundation of Allentown, $2,285,234 have been provided.

“From Day 1, I thought we could do more for the community, that we could be more than a team with a funny name."
Kurt Landes, president of IronPigs Charities

The outpouring of support for such organizations had exceeded the expectations of Kurt Landes, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs' president and general manager, who said he had a dream when he arrived in 2006.

“I was excited about the new team and the stadium back then,” said Landes, who also is president of IronPigs Charities. “But I thought it could be more. Find a way to integrate the team and the community to help others."

"I didn’t want us to just be a baseball team. There are a lot of minor league teams who just give away tickets, and that’s it. But they do nothing like this."

“From Day One, I thought we could do more for the community, that we could be more than a team with a funny name. And we have. And when I go out and see the impact we have from the money we donate, to see the smiles on their faces and hearing them say thanks, that feeling is amazing.”

The event had just about everything. Phillies players Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh and Dalton Guthrie; General Manager Sam Fuld, television play-by-play man Tom McCarthy and even the Phillie Phanatic.

Phillies Caravan
Phil Gianficaro
Phillies center fielder Brandon Marsh was reminded of his late father's commitment to helping those in need while attending the IronPigs Charities/Phillies Winter Caravan event at ArtsQuest Center on Thursday night.

For Marsh, the outpouring of community support left him remembering his late father, Jake, who died of cancer at age 50 in April 2021, and best friend, Jacob Cordiello, who died suddenly of an undisclosed condition at age 23 two months later.

“Helping people who need it means everything to me,” Marsh said. “My father was like that, always doing something to help others, and Jake was like that, too.

"To see what they went through at the end, it makes you think about all the people out there who may need a little help. Fans come help us on the field; we have an obligation to help them where and when we can.”

IronPigs Charities' commitment to caring positively affects a diverse range of organizations throughout Greater Lehigh Valley, including:

Autism Society Lehigh Valley: Introduction to rock climbing for youth with autism; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lehigh Valley: Sports Buddies Mentoring Program; Boys and Girls Club of Allentown: Triple Play at Turner Street; Boys and Girls Club of Bethlehem: Triple Play-Smart Girls; Camelot for Children: Camp Camelot 2023; Community Bike Works: Earn a Bike; Dream Come True: Dream Fulfillment; Emmaus Public Library: Let’s Move in the Library-Junior Edition; Girls on the Run Lehigh Valley: 2023 Program Expansion Initiative.

Also, Greater Valley YMCA: youth sports and recreation programs; Jewish Day School of Lehigh Valley: sports and recreation clubs; Joseph H. Firth Youth Center: educational field trips; Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living (LVCIL): Fishing and Fun in the Park; Macungie Memorial Park Association: pool swim lessons; Mikayla’s Voice: 2023 Tri for Inclusion; Pediatric Cancer Foundation of Lehigh Valley: Camp Smile; Northern Lehigh Recreation Authority: Old Fashioned Games in the Park; Saucon Valley Community Center: Hellertown Summer Park Program.

Cheskiewicz, executive director of Mikayla’s Voice, of Nazareth, the relationship between her organization and IronPigs Charities goes far beyond dollars and cents.

“Everyone there is so welcoming and friendly,” Cheskiewicz said. “We’re happy to receive the grant because it will help fund our USA-sanctioned triathlon event, of which the IronPigs are a title sponsor.

"But we’re even prouder to know those people because they truly care about not only us but other organizations that also need help.”

Phillies Caravan
Phil Gianficaro
Mike Cipoloni and Jen Rimonneau, of St. Luke’s University Health Network, share a moment with the Phillie Phanatic at the Iron Pigs Charities caravan.

For Matt Sommers, manager of IronPigs Charities, the marriage between the baseball organization and the Lehigh Valley community is a blessing.

“It means everything to me and us as an organization,” he said. “We’re nothing without the support of the community, so we give back. When I leave work or leave an event like this, I know I’ve helped people who need it.”

As the conversation with Marsh was about to end, he paused. His eyes scanned the large crowd in the large room full of caring and hope. He drank in the energy of folks smiling and laughing, of sharing stories and moments, of bidding on sports memorabilia that will help fund next year’s event. A community of helping.

He tilted his eyes toward the heavens.

“My father was always helping others,” he said, wistfully. “He would have loved this.”