MLB All-Star Curtis Granderson Is Working to Strike Out Child Hunger

As the baseball player moved from one team to another, Granderson raised money for local food banks. But his heart never left his hometown of Chicago. That's where he started the Grand Kids Foundation, which encourages kids to be active and helps them get the healthy food they need to grow.

Helping kids is something of a family tradition for Curtis Granderson. The retired MLB player grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. His father was an elementary school coach and his mother, a high school science teacher. (His sister is now a college professor.) Granderson's parents regularly sent money back to the Mississippi town where they were raised to provide scholarships to Mississippi Valley State, and the teachers often talked at the dinner table about the challenges their low-income students faced.

A few years after Granderson joined the Detroit Tigers as an outfielder, he saw other athletes holding fundraisers and getting involved in charitable causes. He realized that he, too, could use this newfound celebrity he'd been granted to follow in his parents' tradition of giving. Like them, he decided to focus on children.

"If I don't have food in my stomach, it doesn't matter what you're trying to teach me or what you want me to learn, it is going to be hard for me to focus."

In 2007, when he was still in his 20s, Granderson started the Grand Kids Foundation to help children get active. He organized one-day baseball camps in and around Chicago for kids during his summer All-Star breaks, and joined Michelle Obama's 2010 "Let's Move!" campaign. But the more he learned about children's health, the more he realized that education, health and exercise were all connected to nutrition. "If I don't have food in my stomach, it doesn't matter what you're trying to teach me or what you want me to do," he explains now. "It's going to be hard for me to focus." 

Even as Granderson moved around the country playing for different baseball teams, Grand Kids was a significant side project. Whether he lived in New York City, Miami or Los Angeles, he raised funds for local food banks, and traveled back home to Chicago to host more baseball camps—most of them at a new University of Illinois Chicago stadium that he donated $5 million to build. Knowing many of those kids didn't have enough food at home, Granderson connected with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to bring its Lunch Bus to the day camps. One day, a boy told him, "Hey, I'm grabbing two lunchboxes, but I want to make sure you know I'm not being greedy. My brother's not here. Can I bring a meal home for him?"

And that's when Granderson realized improving childhood nutrition was bigger than serving a healthy lunch.

In 2013, Granderson and the Food Depository partnered with Chicagoland supermarket chain Mariano's to hold the Grand Giving food drive. Every November since then, the supermarkets encourage shoppers to donate money and food at the cash register. "The partnership is one of our most successful cause marketing initiatives," says Food Depository communications manager Jim Conwell. To date, Conwell adds, the campaign has raised funds to provide 1 million meals to people in Cook County. 

Granderson retired from baseball and returned to Chicago permanently just before the pandemic hit. According to the Food Depository, food pantry visits spiked by as much as 150% that year, hitting Black and Latino households with children disproportionately hard. 

The Grand Giving campaign didn't lose a beat. "People still needed to buy groceries, whether they were using delivery or they were going in person, so we were still able to have people see the initiative," Granderson says. Last November alone, Grand Giving raised $200,000.

Granderson insists his work to relieve hunger is no different from the millions of people helping out in their own communities. "As a celebrity and athlete, we just have a bigger reach," he says.