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McCaskill’s Actions Are Food for Thought

If the good people at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra weren’t Kirk McCaskill fans before this week, they are now. And for a heartwarming change of pace, the attraction has nothing to do with earned-run averages or Angel victories, but with, well, a refrigerator.

Not just any refrigerator, mind you. This one costs about $3,000 and has more room than a walk-in closet. To the folks at Our Lady of Guadalupe, the fridge looks as pretty as an Easter bonnet. To begin with, it’s new. Better yet, it’s free, courtesy of McCaskill, the Angel starter who puts his money where his heart is.

Each week the La Habra church somehow distributes food to about 200 needy households in the area. It does so without the benefit of decent cold-storage equipment. Or at least, that was the case before the aptly named Kirk McCaskill Strike Out Hunger Foundation became involved.

McCaskill’s year-old organization raised the necessary money for the oversized refrigerator and plans on presenting it to church officials Monday or Tuesday. At last there will be more room to store vegetables, fruit and frozen goods.

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Of course, none of this qualifies McCaskill for sainthood, though it does confirm that he has a social conscience, a rare commodity these days for most people, including professional athletes. In McCaskill’s case, he not only took a stand, but he took out his wallet too. For each strikeout he registers this season, $20 goes toward the foundation’s $35,000 goal to provide refrigeration equipment for agencies chosen by the Food Distribution Center Serving Orange County. Needless to say, the Center is hoping for a banner season from McCaskill, preferably something reminiscent of 1986, when he struck out 202 batters.

As for other fund-raising methods, McCaskill lends his name and time to an annual biathlon, as well as a baseball clinic at Anaheim Stadium. The most recent clinic, which featured teammates Lance Parrish, Jack Howell, Bert Blyleven, Wally Joyner and Chili Davis, raised about $2,500.

“You know, $2,500 might not seem like a lot, but for a small group like us, it was a big step,” McCaskill said.

Hey, every little bit helps, right? According to Food Distribution Center statistics culled from the 1980 census report, 320,000 people will risk going hungry sometime during the month.

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By the way, that’s in Orange County, not Appalachia. And if you’re keeping score at home, that’s a 1-in-7 hunger ratio.

“They’re not starving . . . I mean, we’re not talking Africa here,” said Bridget O’Connell, the Center’s communications manager. “But food comes last. First comes shelter, transportation and medical. Then comes food.”

The problem appealed to McCaskill and his wife, Dana, who had been interested in immersing themselves in a local cause. They chose to combat hunger, partly because it affected their community and because it allowed them to help directly. Thus, the foundation was born.

“The first year was a difficult fund-raising year,” McCaskill said. “There were a lot of start-up costs and the events didn’t go as well as we had expected. But I think that’s common.

“The real gain, though, was in public awareness. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Angel victories help the McCaskills’ cause. So do near no-hitters, such as the one McCaskill had the night before the April 29 baseball clinic. Come the day of the clinic, more than 200 kids were there. Last year, as McCaskill struggled through an injury-plagued 4-6 season, only 21 kids showed up.

Unlike the ill-fated Dickerson’s Rangers, a publicity stunt conceived by an image-conscious PR firm for former Ram Eric Dickerson, McCaskill’s work is sincere and heartfelt. He spent much of the past year assembling his board of directors, meeting with lawyers, making appearances and making mistakes. It was trial and error at its finest.

Now comes the fun part: making a difference.

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“I’ve always had a keen sense of responsibility, but I was never one to get involved because I never thought I could do anything,” McCaskill said. “But now as a major league ballplayer, I really can. I figured if I ever was going to do something in my life, this was (the time).”

The effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. O’Connell raves about McCaskill’s commitment to Orange County’s hunger problem. As far as she knows, McCaskill is the only area athlete to offer his support in tangible terms.

“It really means a great deal for us,” she said. “It kind of gives us that shot in the arm we need. He’s concerned. After all, in Orange County, it’s real easy to think that there’s not a hunger problem. With Kirk, it lends more believability. I mean, we can back it up with statistic after statistic, but when someone like Kirk does this, it’s fabulous.”

Fledgling as it might be at times, McCaskill’s Strike Out Hunger Foundation has begun to make its presence known in small, meaningful ways. Early on, the foundation received a pledge from a 9-year-old Little League player. McCaskill remembers the player’s name as if it were his own.

“Jeremy Patterson,” McCaskill said. “He told us he’d give us 25 cents for every strikeout he had in Little League.”

Sure enough, at season’s end, Jeremy sent an envelope. In it was about $17. Now if McCaskill could just convince area businesses and corporations to chip in an envelope or two, he’d really have something.

“We’re very committed to helping out,” McCaskill said. “Part of the problem is having the patience to realize it’s not going to happen as quick as we’d like.”

Don’t apologize. Back at Our Lady of Guadalupe, it was worth the wait.

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