Blue Jays win philanthropy award after adapting charity plans amid pandemic

TORONTO – Robert Witchel was in Dunedin, Fla., helping the Jays Care Foundation finalize its groundwork for 2020 when COVID-19 forced Major League Baseball to suspend spring training March 12.

The executive director of the Toronto Blue Jays’ charitable arm scrambled home the next day, popped into the office briefly and immediately transitioned from executing a strategic plan in the works since the previous July, to reimagining the uncertain months ahead.

A delay to the regular season’s start and local shutdowns meant that the team’s in-game 50/50 draws along with its annual gala event and golf tournament were at risk. Those streams raise roughly 50 per cent of the foundation’s revenues, and the looming threat of a budgetary collapse forced Witchel to start contingency planning ahead of a March 26 board meeting.

“I’m preparing all sorts of different scenarios and, this was a major factor in why we’ve been able to achieve what we have this year, the board said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a rainy-day surplus. It’s not raining, it’s pouring, so we want you to look at ways that you can actually spend more than what you had budgeted,” Witchel said. “I was very pleasantly surprised, and it just took off a lot of pressure from the team so we could actually look at what’s going to be the most impactful for the communities that we serve. So we basically started getting to work.”

The board, chaired by Melinda…

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