The year 2020 is one we will all remember vividly – and not necessarily for good reasons. Throughout this difficult year, while LAFC performed on the pitch and made the playoffs for the third straight season, it was what the Club was able to accomplish off the field in the community that truly made this year special.
Before the start of every season, the team behind LAFC’s Force for Good of Aida Morrow (Director, Community Relations) and Alina Beruff (Executive Director, LAFC Foundation) plans community and LAFC Foundation events well in advance. Community needs are assessed, and strategies for how best to address them are put into action.
This year, however, was different.
“Ultimately, we want to be a force for good in the community,” Morrow said. “So, though we had community programs scheduled or events scheduled for 2020 prior to the pandemic and the shutdown, we looked at the shutdown, especially in mid-March as an opportunity to really stop and focus on what the needs of our community partners and school partners were. We really didn't look at it as a way to try to continue some things we may have already had scheduled, we looked to pivot and ensure that we were filling in gaps or areas of support that our partners really needed at that point.”
As COVID-19 hit, the team couldn’t concern itself with the original plans on the year, and Morrow and Beruff needed to take a serious look at the changing needs of the community and move to quickly strategize how best to move forward.
“After the initial shutdown, we looked at who our current partners were, what we were planning to do with them, and we really began talking to them individually to figure out where the gaps were and how we could support them,” Morrow said. “Then we started to think where were the big areas that we’ll need to refocus on. Some of those areas that we noticed were just food access. Folks in the community were getting laid off or furloughed immediately, and we saw how that was affecting the households of some of the students that we work with.”
As COVID-19 began permeating all elements of society, LAFC had already began positioning itself to help take a leading role among the greater Los Angeles sports landscape, embedding itself with L.A. City and County officials to help spread educational messages on pandemic safety and where to find local available resources. The Club enlisted the help of other major sports teams including the: Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Rams, among others, in creating a unified pandemic PSA to ensure the greater L.A. community was well informed of the Mayor’s stay at home messaging and regulations. That wasn’t enough for the community team. More needed to be done.
After listening to the needs of the local community, Morrow helped develop a whole new initiative to address the issues that were hitting so close to home. The Black and Gold Community Relief Fund was created out of sheer necessity and has already paid massive dividends. Throughout the year, the Fund has already provided over $20,000 in emergency funding to 42 families to support rent and utility bills. It has also served 10,000 people with PPE donations to the community.
“We had a number of meetings to really gather information about what we were hearing in the community about areas of extreme, short-term needs. Collectively, we decided to create the Black & Gold Community Relief Fund, which was a joint effort between our Community Relations Department and our Foundation to really provide support to Angelinos who were impacted by COVID-19,” said Morrow. “Through the Relief Fund, we were able to raise dollars that went directly to applicants in need. They could apply to receive support money to pay bills - whether those were utility or rent to ensure that people still had a safe place to live throughout the pandemic. Additionally, we realized that food insecurity was even more heightened and inequitable, so we focused a lot of our attention on creating drive-through food donation events that provided fresh fruits and vegetables to our local community as well. Then, because the pandemic is a health issue, we also partnered with the American Red Cross to host blood drives in our stadium, because we found out that reserves were low and this was an especially crucial time. Those main areas of focus were really based on what we heard as to the needs from our community members.”
Through the Fund, the community team also aligned with local bar and restaurant partners to launch the LAFC Food Delivery Service program, a season-long program that provided 16 meals, twice a week, to local families in need. The Club and LAFC Foundation also partnered with The Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA) to host Veggie Box Giveaways at Banc of California Stadium for over 500 families every Wednesday for nine weeks. Additionally, other food drives included the LAFC Salvation Army Food Drive, Feeding the Frontlines Drive, South LA Café Grocery Give Away (2 weeks), Manual Arts Highschool AHA Veggie Box Drive (10 Weeks) and the District 9 Grocery Give Away. In all, investing $120,000 and serving an eye-opening 20,000 families.
The Club partnered with the American Red Cross to host five blood drives in Banc of California Stadium’s Figueroa Club. These drives produced a total of 888 units of blood, ultimately contributing to saving over 500 lives for patients in need of critical access to blood.
The community team did all of this in addition to continuing many initiatives and events that were scheduled before the pandemic, such as a full Month of Giving in July, backpack giveaways and the annual Kicking Childhood Cancer campaign, among others.
“We could not have made such an impact this year without all the help from our community partners and local nonprofits,” Morrow said. “They helped us make a difference and they were all really active in the community. It has been incredible to be a part of, to see partners like See-LA who helped provide and purchase veggie boxes from local farmers to ensure that we were able to distribute enough to Angelinos. Frontline Foods really focused on ensuring that essential workers had food while they were on the front lines battling the pandemic. Also, small businesses such as South LA café, opened up their doors and created donation drives weekly to ensure that their neighborhood and their neighbors had the food to help them sustain from week to week. We also saw great work not only in our specific school partners, but schools in general that have been able to really pivot and do their best to ensure that our children are continuing to get the education that they need in an unprecedented time.”
LAFC’s corporate partners such as Banc of California and Target also stepped up to help support the Club’s efforts in this difficult time, and Morrow said LAFC received donations from Clif, Power Crunch, Dole, Body Armor, and many more.
“I think this has been a tremendous example of how when people are in need a community really wraps their arms around itself to help uplift and support it,” Morrow said.
It was this dedication from the people of Los Angeles, as well as LAFC’s volunteers and commitment to helping that Morrow emphasized as she looked back on 2020.
“One of the things that I most proud of this year was our Club's ability to really listen and mobilize to provide support for our local community,” Morrow said. “I think as a steward for being a Force for Good, we were able to put that saying into action by creating specific events that targeted and focused on those areas where people needed the most help.”