DCTC Baseball Volunteers at The Open Door

Players and coaches help distribute food at Pop-Up Produce Drive Thru

The Blue Knights baseball team at Dakota County Technical College volunteered to distribute food at The Open Door (TOD) Pop-Up Produce Drive-Thru at Metcalf Middle School in Burnsville, Minnesota. Players and coaches worked outdoors alongside TOD associates for three hours Tuesday afternoon, February 2, 2021.

Matt Erzar

DCTC Head Baseball Coach Matt Erzar was happy to see his players doing their part to alleviate hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic when so many people are facing food insecurity.

“It was great to see our young men working together to help out our community,” Coach Erzar said. “I believe our guys now have a greater appreciation for The Open Door organization. They were very surprised by how much food was given out, and I was blown away how quickly we got the families in and out with their food.”

Dana Kiecker

Assistant Baseball Coach Dana Kiecker was also on hand that afternoon to participate in the food-distribution operation.

“It takes an entire baseball roster to work cooperatively to be successful on the diamond,” Coach Kiecker said. “The DCTC Blue Knights baseball team worked cooperatively with The Open Door Pop-Up Produce Drive Thru to bring hope, smiles and nutritious food to people in Dakota County.”

Nick Baker: Blue Knight Q & A

Nick Baker

Nick Baker
Age: 20
Hometown: Cloquet, Minnesota
Academic Program: Individualized Studies
Baseball team position: Catcher

Why are you volunteering at The Open Door and what does your community service mean to you?

Coach Dana is pretty big into it right now. I’m just looking for an opportunity to help out when I can. Makes you feel good, too.

What do you love about playing baseball for the Blue Knights?

It’s different than other teams. It feels like a family, like a brotherhood. Growing up, I would play baseball with my twin brother, and now I’ve lost him, but I gained 30 more brothers here at DCTC.

What do you like most about your education at DCTC?

It’s fun! Real nice, straight forward. There are good teachers who are willing to help with any issues, lots of one-on-one time.

Recent hunger-related statistics

  • One in four Minnesotans are currently having trouble covering their household expenses
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Emergency Food System was already at capacity
  • Since March 2020, Dakota County has been deluged with 91,538 unemployment claims
  • Minimum wage = needing to work 75 hours/week to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Dakota County

DCTC baseball at The Open Door gallery¹

View more event photos on DCTC Flickr by visiting:

Blue Knights Baseball Volunteers at The Open Door

Jason Viana: TOD executive director perspective

From the beginning of the pandemic, everyone at TOD was of the mindset: How do we get it done? And it was exciting trying to figure out new ways to do things we have been doing for a long time.

One of the biggest things we have done is our large-scale, drive- thru distributions so people could access food in a way they felt safe and kept our volunteers safe.

One of the reasons why I chose to get involved in The Open Door is because this organization is such a tangible way to make an impact.

Jason Viana
Executive Director
The Open Door

More about The Open Door…

Sarah O’Brien serves as development and communications manager at The Open Door (TOD). Sarah reported that The Open Door is a hunger-relief organization dedicated to ending local hunger through access to healthy food.

“TOD has grown from a closet in a church to the largest food shelf in Dakota County,” she said. “We provide fresh and healthy food to more than 14,000 people per month through a combination of innovative programs. The event where the DCTC baseball team volunteered is our large-scale food distribution operation at Metcalf Middle School.”

Sarah noted that limited, unreliable or nonexistent transportation creates a barrier that is often perpetuated by the fact that Dakota County lacks connective public transportation within neighborhoods.

“Buses can take you to downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, but often cannot take you to the grocery store,” she said. “Not every food-shelf client can easily travel to TOD’s Eagan Pantry, a traditional bricks-and-mortar site offering monthly appointments with a curbside-pickup option as well as a socially distanced, indoor ‘shopping’ option.”

Since 2012, TOD has responded with the county’s only mobile food distribution program, which brings the Mobile Pantry via bus or box truck to 30 neighborhood sites. Amid COVID-19, TOD has been working with partners to use existing structures in creative ways, establishing weekly large-scale drive-through distributions in four cities.

“Our most recent location is Metcalf Middle School in Burnsville,” Sarah said. “We are at this site weekly on Tuesdays; we have been at Metcalf since November 2020 and plan to be there until May 2021 at minimum.”

The Open Door: Fast facts

TOD has grown from serving 7,000 clients in 2019 to 14,000 people each month. TOD programs have more than doubled the number of opportunities clients have to access food growing from 29,000 visits in 2019 to more than 60,000 visits in 2020.

Sixty-seven percent of the nearly 2.7 million pounds of food distributed has been fresh and perishable. TOD welcomed 31,548 new clients in 2020.

In January, the Metcalf Middle School Large-Scale Drive-Thru distributed 155,325 pounds of food to 2,076 households. The Drive-Thru served 9,847 people total: 4,335 children, 4,386 adults and 1,126 seniors.

Sara Garcia: TOD coordinator perspective…

TOD teammates: Kiersten Johnson, Sara Garcia, Audrey Lomax

I started working for The Open Door in May of 2019 as an AmeriCorps service member. In October of 2019, I took over the mobile food program coordinator position. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined something like the pandemic. It has been an amazing experience to be a front-line worker during this time, and this is something I will never forget.

Sara Garcia

One of the most inspiring things to have come out of the pandemic is the immense volunteer support we have had. Before COVID, most of our volunteers were seniors who have been working with us for many years. They were in the group of high-risk individuals if they were to contract COVID-19. Many had to make the hard decision to stay home for their safety.

We have had so many community members step up to serve their neighbors. It has been so amazing to meet all these new volunteers and hear their stories of how COVID has impacted their lives and what has motivated them to volunteer with us.

We have volunteers from all age groups and backgrounds coming together to serve their community. It has been such a heartwarming experience watching everyone come together for the greater good of the community.

Our volunteers have been with us through the ups and the downs of the pandemic, the scorching heat and now the icy cold, and even some crazy snowstorms. Many of our volunteers at our Metcalf distributions have been volunteering with us since the spring—rain, shine or lots of snow, they are there working with us to get the food out.

Sara Garcia
Mobile Food Program Coordinator
The Open Door

More about DCTC Blue Knights baseball…

The Blue Knights baseball team at Dakota County Technical College competes at the NJCAA Division II level in Region XIII. The Blue Knights play home games at Ames Field on the college’s campus in Rosemount, Minnesota.

The team played only 12 games in 2019–20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finishing the abbreviated season with a record of 8–4. You can view the upcoming season by visiting 2020–21 Blue Knights Baseball Schedule.

Learn more about The Open Door by contacting:

Jason Viana
Executive Director
The Open Door

Sarah O’Brien
Development & Communications Manager

Learn more about DCTC Blue Knights baseball by contacting:

Matthew Erzar
Head Baseball Coach
Dakota County Technical College

¹ Photos: Rachel Marzahn, DCTC Marketing and Communications