Kyle Gibson lived in one of Minnesota’s wealthiest suburbs during his seven seasons as a Twins pitcher, so he was surprised that the food bank he volunteered with was sending supplies to two schools in his town. That’s when Gibson, who joined the Phillies last month, realized food insecurity can be everywhere.
“It’s every city, every community regardless of how affluent or low income they are,” Gibson said. “We’ve been fortunate our entire life to never face food insecurity, but the number of kids in America who live in food insecurity is astounding.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 11 million children in the U.S. face food insecurity, which is a lack of “consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Gibson stuffed backpacks with food to send to students in Minnesota, donated to a food pantry during his two seasons in Texas, and has now aligned himself after being traded to the Phillies with two Philadelphia foundations: Philabundance and Cradles to Crayons.
“He’s right. Poverty is everywhere,” said Michal Smith, the executive director of Cradles to Crayons. “Philadelphia has the highest rate of deep poverty in the nation for a large city. But the pockets of poverty are all around us in the region. There are pockets of poverty in Ambler and Collegeville, in North Philadelphia, and Bensalem. It’s everywhere.”
The Phillies acquired Gibson at the trade deadline to stabilize their rotation as he was one of the American League’s top pitchers in the first half of the season. It didn’t take long to feel his impact as Gibson, 33, won his first two starts. And it didn’t take long for the community to feel that impact, too.
Philabundance is the region’s largest food bank and distributed 57 million pounds of food last year to those in need in the Delaware Valley. Cradles to Crayons provides children in need with essential items, such as backpacks, coats, shoes, toys, and books.
Gibson and his wife, Elizabeth, are donating this season to Philabundance for every strikeout he throws and to Cradles to Crayons for every win by the Phillies. He launched a website to invite fans to join him.
“Trying to help kids, whether it’s internationally or domestically, has been a passion of ours,” said Gibson, who has three children. “Being born in the U.S., we kind of won the birth lottery, right? A lot of kids have no choice on where they were born or the situation they were born into. So any time we can help that situation, we do. We try to get involved with single mothers as well. Any time we can jump into those situations that have a little less hope or less control of the people at risk, we try to help out.”
Gibson is the vice president of Big League Impact, which was founded in 2013 by St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright to bring together pro athletes, musicians, and other public figures to raise money and awareness for “the causes our players care about.”
Gibson teamed with Wainwright to raise money from more than 150 major-league players to provide more than four million meals to students fighting childhood hunger during the pandemic. Gibson was nominated in 2019 for the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given annually by Major League Baseball for community involvement and philanthropy.
He and his wife went on mission trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic and raised more than $160,000 for the Boys and Girls Club while he was pitching for the Twins.
“It’s a big part of what my wife and I believe in,” said Gibson. “We know that we’ve been given a lot and have been put into a really fortunate situation for our whole lives, basically. We really feel like it’s important to show love and give hope to people who maybe don’t have it on a day-to-day basis. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it.”
Smith said Gibson’s work with Cradles to Crayons shows the “deep connection” that athletes and their families can bring to new cities. Gibson’s support, she said, “means an enormous amount.”
“The Phillies are so near and dear to the rest of Philadelphia that this sort of sets an example and helps us engage other people who may be interested and be hearing about us for the first time just because we’re connected to someone who has such a high profile,” Smith said.
The foundation relies on volunteers and donations to pull off events like their backpack-a-thon, which will give 50,000 area children school bags and supplies to start the school year.
“Kids need our help,” Smith said. “With the impact of COVID, poverty has become more significant, quite frankly, for many of our communities throughout the region.”
Gibson will start Tuesday night in Arizona as he tries to keep the Phillies in the hunt for their first playoff berth in a decade. His performance was already important as the team is desperate to finally return to October baseball. And now each strikeout and win carries even more significance.
“We’re going to spend the rest of this year and hopefully next year and who knows after that. We want to be connected with the community and find areas to plug in and to give and to use our platform,” Gibson said. “It’s great to be able to give, but we also like to show up and do things and be a part of it. It’s cool to see people’s faces light up.
“People just want to know that they’re recognized and they’re seen and that people aren’t forgetting about their problems. There’s a lot of people with a lot of problems every single day, and every now and then you can feel like you’ve been forgotten and might think that people don’t care about you, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”