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Nationals' Home Opener to Launch a Giving Streak

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 2005; Page C04

Fans who show up for the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' opening home game -- an exhibition game against the New York Mets on April 3 -- will find themselves pitching in on the team's charitable efforts.

Profits from that game's ticket sales will go to the Washington Nationals Foundation.

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The foundation's focus will be improving the quality of life in the Washington area and helping kids by boosting their academic performance, improving their health and (of course) developing baseball and softball programs for them, said Barbra Silva, the Nationals' director of community relations.

The Nationals join a well-established tradition in professional sports of offering community programs and cash grants to local charities. Such efforts promote a feel-good attitude about the team (desperately needed in this time of multiple sports scandals) and help generate interest in the team and the sport.

The Washington Wizards and Mystics basketball teams, the Redskins football team, the Capitals hockey team and the D.C. United soccer team all have such ventures. They offer grants to community groups, collect food and other items for the poor, and offer sports clinics, reading programs and other projects.

Among other initiatives, the Wizards' Washington Sports & Entertainment Charities has been a big contributor to the District's summer feeding program for kids. D.C. United gives free books to 1,300 kids at several D.C. schools it has adopted.

The Nationals will start off by awarding grants to local charities in the next few months. The amount of money they spend will depend on how many people show up April 3.

"It would be great if I could get a few thousand dollars to go to the foundation," Silva said.

On the other side of the world, nearly $1 billion raised by U.S. relief organizations is destined for tsunami relief, according to this week's Chronicle of Philanthropy. Here is a look at local fundraisers and how they fared in their efforts to help.

Barbecue meister Blake Barker, owner of Texacan Beef & Pork Co. in Ashburn, promised to contribute revenue from his store from January and February to the American Red Cross tsunami relief program. On Tuesday, Barker made good on that pledge, donating $21,500 to the Red Cross.

Rizwan Mowlana, a Gaithersburg resident whose efforts to help his native Sri Lanka were chronicled in a front-page Washington Post story in January, returned from Sri Lanka this week.

He reports that after a slow start, he's making progress. Asia Relief, the organization he launched with donations he received after the tsunami struck, launched a Little Dreams program, which fulfills small projects for individuals affected by the tsunami. It recently completed a shop for an injured vegetable vendor in south Sri Lanka and stocked it with rice, bananas and other goods. Several other such projects are in the works, Mowlana said.

Asia Relief has received 120 acres of land from the Sri Lankan government and plans to build 200 small, single-family houses on it, Mowlana said.

Mowlana finally received the crates and shipping containers he had shipped to Sri Lanka packed with donated food, clothing, toys and medical supplies. Some of the items were distributed to hospitals and refugee camps; some were given to the Sri Lankan government for distribution, he said.

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