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Stingers raised over $10K for three area groups this summer

By Ben Brewster

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Stingers have brought top-level college baseball to town in their two years of existence, with second- and third-place finishes in the Northwoods League North Division. But this year their contributions to the community go beyond entertainment.

During the 2011 season, the Stingers teamed up with local businesses to raise over $10,000 for three non-profit organizations in the Willmar area: The Willmar Area Food Shelf, the local American Cancer Society and a mentorship program for children at the Willmar YMCA.

"It's been a goal of ours to be as involved as we can in the community," Stingers co-owner Ryan Voz said. "This was a way for us to do fun promotions at the ballpark and also help these three organizations that are looking for additional funds."

The Stingers began fundraising for the Willmar Area Food Shelf in 2010, when they raised $3,465. They added $3,595 this season with "Jerseys off our Back Night." Fans bid on auctions for each player's jersey during the Aug. 4 game, and afterwards the players signed and gave away their jerseys to the winning fans.

The money raised in 2011 would provide approximately 11,000 individual meals to families needing help in Kandiyohi County, said Christie Kurth, executive director of the Food Shelf.

"When a family comes in to get services they receive a three-day supply of food -- three breakfast, lunch and supper meals and some snack items," Kurth said. "We let them shop for their own groceries based on the size of their family."

The 2011 fundraising began on June 18, when the players used pink bats during the game and auctioned them off afterwards to benefit the American Cancer Society. Also benefitting the organization was the Relay for Life Online Challenge and the Relay for Life Walk on July 22.

Stingers players joined in the walk at Willmar Middle School.

"The group of players we had all walked in the Relay for Life along with the coaches," Voz said. "We even had some of the parents and immediate families of the players give money to Online Relay on behalf of the Stingers."

Voz said some Stingers players also posted links to the Online Relay from their Facebook pages to encourage more people to give. The events totaled $3,090 for the American Cancer Society.

The Stingers continued the fundraising with the Get Stung with the Run 1K/5K on July 23. Stingers players and fans paid a $25 entry fee to be in the run and each participant's fee went directly back to the mentorship program.

The run raised $3,534 for the YMCA's mentorship program, which provides children in the area with positive adult role models.

In all, the Stingers raised $10,219 for the three charities in 2011.

"It's been wonderful to have the Stingers in the community," Kurth said. "It's very neat that you see a sports team do that. They bring a lot more than just baseball to our community."