With players away, Brewers get creative in community
Bullpen catcher Hanel leads annual coat drive through 'Koos for Kids' charity
MILWAUKEE -- Not since Craig Counsell retired after the 2011 season has a Brewers player made his year-round home in Milwaukee, but that was only one of the reasons the team's bullpen catcher, Marcus Hanel, was hard at work this week.
Hanel was born and raised in nearby Racine, and though his annual salary is dwarfed by even the most inexperienced of Major Leaguers, he has his own nonprofit organization that for eight years, among its other initiatives, has distributed hundreds of winter coats to Milwaukee-area school kids each November.
On Monday afternoon, the stop was Gilbert Stuart Elementary School on the city's northwest side, which was covered in a blanket of snow.
"Three hundred and fifty kids, a lot of whom weren't ready for this weather," said the school's principal, Winifred Tidmore. "These are kids who have been coming to school without jackets, and it's getting colder. For an organization to do something like this, to reach out to the community like this, it's absolutely awesome."
The needs in the community are greater when the weather gets colder, forcing a team that plays during the summer to get creative in its community relations efforts.
"Everyone's requesting the players," said Katina Shaw, the Brewers' senior director of community relations. "It's one of our biggest challenges this time of year."
She relies often on former Brewers Jim Gantner, Gorman Thomas and Larry Hisle, who live in Wisconsin year-round (Hisle has a post in the front office). Counsell is still involved, though his own front-office duties take time. And the Klement's Racing Sausages work just as hard in the winter as they do during the summer months. They were cheered by kids Monday at Stuart Elementary.
In all, Brewers Community Foundation raised more than $2.8 million in 2013 through its game day "50/50" raffles, its 5K in July and a mini-marathon in September, plus the "Evening With Hank Aaron" and "Pink Tie Guy" events, and will spend nearly all of it to support nonprofit organizations in the areas of health, education, recreation and basic needs. In 2012, BCF spent 97.8 percent of its total revenue, according to data compiled earlier this month by the Appleton Post-Crescent.
In the offseason months, the Brewers tend to partner instead with other charitable organizations. Just during Thanksgiving week, the club teamed with WISN, Milwaukee's ABC affiliate, and the Hunger Task Force and sent staff to man the phones for the Food For Families drive. On Wednesday, BCF, Hunger Task Force and CBS 58 hosted a food drive at Miller Park.
Then there is Hanel, who started his "Koos for Kids" charity in 2005. His nickname -- Koos -- came from the pronunciation of his first name by Hanel's German-born parents. When he visited Stuart Elementary on Monday, all 350 students went home with a new winter coat.
"I've been given a platform, albeit it's small," Hanel said. "It started because people would ask for memorabilia to help an organization. It was nice to help them raise money, but who knows where it goes? I wanted to see more things done locally.
"I think a lot of people think, 'When I become something, when I get big, then I'll help out.' I think we need to get to the realization that you can help out even when you're the low man on the totem pole. You just have to have a vision. That's my one message: You don't have to be a millionaire to start something."
His signature program began modestly in 2006, when Hanel and wife Jill gave away 15 winter coats to needy kids. This year, with help from the Sears at Southridge Mall in suburban Milwaukee, which sells coats to Koos for Kids at a deep discount, the Hanels distributed more than 1,100 winter coats to schoolchildren in the area. Shaw works with Hanel and the Milwaukee Public Schools each year to determine where there is the greatest need.
Hanel raises all of the money to purchase the coats at one event during the season, at which he auctions off signed memorabilia and fan experiences provided by Brewers players, most of whom attend.
For that reason, Hanel disputed the notion that Brewers players are not involved in the winter.
"I wish they could see the result of it," Hanel said. "I know it can be an inconvenience to do a fundraiser like that after a game, but I really appreciate them coming out. We had 20 guys last year -- that's almost the whole team."
Tidmore described the "pure joy" on faces as children chose their coats Monday.
"Marcus has always been very instrumental in this community," Shaw said. "And he's always just a phone call away, which is very nice."