Ryan and Heather Zimmerman settled into their quarantine routine, which mimicked so much of the process for other Americans. They were pulled in by fresh streaming shows, then nodded off during them. The kids needed to be occupied -- and fed -- and put to bed. Exercise was mostly restricted to in-house equipment, and finding a way to connect with friends often came via video calls.
They wondered what they could do to help those on the outside who were on the inside. Healthcare workers still went to their “office” every day, risking infection during the coronavirus pandemic while treating those trying to survive it. The Zimmermans asked a friend who is a doctor what was needed. They talked to another friend who ran a catering business. Quickly, a plan to provide meals to the workers at the end of their shifts came together, and 150 meals per day initially went out because of the Zimmermans’ personal donations.
Ryan called the company which represents him, CAA, to start moving further. Together, they came up with a logo, a name (Pros for Heroes) and the idea of brewing a coalition. The fund’s launch coincided with the day Zimmerman and many of his teammates hopped on a rambling Zoom call which aired on Facebook while they watched a replay of Game 7 of the World Series.
“So, that helped out quite a bit to have people to see it right away,” Ryan said. “Obviously a lot of that is big donations from my athlete buddies but I think an important message Heather and I want to get through is we’ve had over 1,300 people donate on the GoFundMe page. I was checking [Monday] morning and someone made a $5 donation. I think people get intimidated by seeing the athlete donations. But I can’t stress enough how important every dollar is. A mask is one dollar. So that person that donated one dollar might not think they’re doing much, but they literally give five doctors or five nurses a mask. They can now protect themselves while they’re going in to work on these patients that are infected. Every little bit counts.”
The Facebook broadcast and hefty donations -- like a conspicuous $37,000 gift from an “anonymous” donor and $20,000 from John Wall -- drove the total raised well past $250,000 in a matter of days. They reset the goal to $500,000. If that number is reached by the end of this week, the Zimmermans will again recalibrate.
“Then you start to contemplate whether you want to get some of my good friends that play on other teams in other markets to use the platform and basically just put it in their market to help out their local hometown healthcare heroes,” Ryan said. “These are all things I guess when we started it, we never thought we’d have to have the conversation.”
The Zimmermans have also tried to connect with the workers outside of the financial donations. They hopped on Zoom video calls with healthcare workers at the end of their shifts. Anyone who had a minute to talk came over. Nicklas Backstrom and Ryan Kerrigan were on a call with them Sunday. At the end of a recent call, the workers received a trauma alert and quickly dispersed. Seeing them, talking to them, and trying to encourage them has provided a jolt for the Zimmermans.
“It’s super-emotional for both of us,” Heather said. “Ryan’s actually gotten choked up during most…”
“I’ve gotten better,” Ryan said. “Gotten better.”
“You almost feel like you’re not doing enough,” Heather said. “We’re providing them meals and that’s awesome, but you wish you could do something else.”
The meal donations have grown to 500 per day. The funding is staying local and going directly to what’s needed in area hospitals -- a point which was key to Ryan when looking at how to distribute the money. Individual players are reaching out of their own accord -- like Wall did -- and others are promptly responding when asked. Ryan said he expects every team in the District to be involved before the week is over.
“The community has done so much for us,” Ryan said. “Those are the fans that go to the games. The doctors and nurses and patients; the people that are getting hit by this are the people that come watch us play.”
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