Coaching Corps Volunteers Distribute 90,000 Pounds of Food to Communities in Need

As many families in our communities continue struggling to find and afford healthy meals—a systemic inequity heightened in recent months and weeks—Coaching Corps’ Oakland volunteers have stepped up to do more. With the leadership of NBA legend and dedicated Oakland community member, Antonio Davis, and our very own Director of Government and Community Engagement, Robert Marcus, a handful of community members have been distributing over 90,000 pounds of farm-fresh food across Oakland and Richmond.

With most restaurants and schools closed for months, many food suppliers find themselves with thousands of pounds of fresh produce and foodstuffs they’re unable to sell. As the government recently stepped in to start buying this surplus from suppliers, an opportunity opened for Coaching Corps to make sure it didn’t go to waste, thanks to Coaching Corps Ambassador and former NBA All-Star Antonio Davis.

Combining their vast networks and Oakland know-how with Antonio’s business connections to food suppliers, Antonio and Coaching Corps staff member Robert Marcus pulled together everything they needed to get food to families who need it most. In just a couple of days, the pair organized shipping equipment, donation sites, and a team of volunteers to help them distribute 90,720 pounds of food to sites throughout the East Bay, and they plan to deliver more.

One of those volunteers, Joshua Jones, has been working with Coaching Corps since the start of COVID-19, supporting meal distribution at Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program (ECAP). A rising sophomore at the University of Nevada, Reno, and an East Bay native, Joshua sees the work the group is doing as a way to spread love and equity through his community. “We’re a team of positivity. That’s what we want to spread and let flourish all throughout our home here in the Bay Area. The health and safety of all people is what we deem the most important and we hope that everything we do now is something that people can see and spread to others.”

This feeling of hope and teamwork is no coincidence. All the men in the group pulled from their time on the basketball court. “Even though we haven’t been able to play in our gyms, all of the same energy, strength, speed, communication, and teamwork that’s needed on the court is what’s needed when we’re out here delivering,” Joshua says.

The group includes men as young as 18 years old to men in their 50s. This mix is what it’s all about, Antonio says. “It’s important for us to understand the domino effect of being a Black man in my 50s reaching young men. … It’s all about building the community and it’s inspiring to see these young men so passionate about giving back, and giving them an opportunity to do that is amazing.”

With the portion of the distributions they’ve received, the City of Oakland has set up pop-up farmers’ markets at parks and recreation sites in communities deeply affected by COVID-19. The group turns over their entire supply to residents in less than 40 minutes with each distribution. Other sites that have received deliveries include Loaves and Fishes and ECAP in West Oakland and Booker T. Community Center in Richmond, each redistributing the food to thousands of families every day.

Antonio and Robert hope a continuous flow of food, volunteers, and equipment will enable the group to continue their operation for the remainder of the summer—another six to eight weeks—with another redistribution planned this week for a 35,000-pound shipment.

If you want to get involved and volunteer your time or donate moving materials, such as trucks and dollies, contact Robert Marcus,


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Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Benita Vargas-Brown, Volleyball Coach at Hampstead Hill Academy

Benita Vargas-Brown grew up in one of the poorest parts of Baltimore. She always wanted to make a difference in the city, which is why she became a social worker. That same passion eventually led her to coach and mentor kids in sports. Learn more about Benita’s journey in her own words.
How did you become a Coaching Corps coach?
I didn’t go looking for coaching, it found me. I was really stressed with my job and my final semester in undergrad, so my husband said, “You’re really not helping yourself. Why don’t you leave your job, take the semester off, and figure out what you want to do next?” So, I went to a volunteering fair, and that’s when I got to know Coaching Corps. It was destiny: They were looking for a volleyball coach, and I am qualified to coach volleyball. They said they needed a coach for Hampstead Hill Academy, which is literally just a walk away from our home. So, it was really perfect.
Can you tell us more about the challenges that the kids you coach face at school and at home?
When people hear Baltimore, crime and violence are among the usual challenges that come to mind, so it was extra important to keep the kids off the streets. I’ve had to drive some of the girls home so they don’t have to take the bus when it’s dark.
There have also been some differences among the girls. The school is located at Patterson Park, where on one side you have the million-dollar houses, and on the other you have boarded-up houses. So you wind up having kids coming from privileged and underprivileged situations. This created some interesting dynamics within the team that led to some difficult conversations, but we got through it eventually. That’s one of the benefits of team sports. We got this whole learning experience that wound up really positive at the end.
You mentioned something about “interesting team dynamics.” Can you share more about that?
This is actually one of the things I’m proudest [of] about my team. The girls take it upon themselves to address differences within the group. At one point, it became very clear during our practice that something wasn’t right. We were on this championship drive but there was obvious tension within the team. The girls came to me and gathered as a group to talk things through. The fact that they came up with that strategy on their own is really amazing. For me, it meant that we’re doing something right. After that talk, we got back together as a team. I’m so glad we did it because I know for a fact we wouldn’t have won the championship without sorting things out. Everybody makes mistakes. At the end of the day, what’s important is to be there and have each other’s backs.
What changes or improvements did you see in the girls as a result of being on the team?
The most obvious one would be the sense of maturity. To be in a position where you have a responsibility over something, to be able to practice and play, there are expectations. If you didn’t come to practice on Wednesday, you’re not going to play on Thursday: that’s the consequence for skipping practice.  Eventually it wasn’t the consequence that really drove them. It was their commitment.
All my [Coaching Corps] girls who tried out for high school sports made their teams. There are two highly-rated schools in Baltimore, Baltimore Polytechnic institute and Baltimore City College. To get into those schools is every parent’s and kid’s dream. They have great education and high graduation rates, and they don’t tolerate gang-related violence, which creates a safer environment for the kids. Fifteen of the girls from the team got in and played for Poly while 13 went to City. That makes me really happy.
Wow! If there’s one way to describe success and promoting equity, that would be it. With all these experiences, what advice would you give aspiring coaches and mentors for kids?
Show up. You have to be there. You have to be consistent. You can’t cancel on these kids. Over the course of my time, if I know something’s going to come up in my schedule, I plan for an assistant coach to take over. Kids know if you care. You can figure out everything else, there are Youtube videos for that. You just have to show up because these kids expect you to be there for them.
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