New Red Sox baseman Sean Casey helps out at the Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence in May 2007. Photo courtesy Cor Unum
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LAWRENCE -- When first baseman Sean Casey signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox early this month, Red Sox Nation began admiring his record in the major leagues.
With his career batting average of .301 with 130 home runs, and 718 RBIs over 1,336 games -- the majority of which were with the Cincinnati Reds -- Casey seems to be a perfect fit, offering the Red Sox a solid backup first baseman. There seemed to be reason to celebrate.
Father Paul O’Brien, chairperson of the Cor Unum Meal Center and pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence, also had cause to celebrate, but for an entirely different reason.
Ever since Father O’Brien began dreaming of the possibility of opening a meal center that would feed the hungry in Lawrence, Casey has been at his side.
He was there as Father O’Brien launched Labels are for Jars, an innovative campaign that sells black T-shirts bearing labels like “troubled teen” or “addict” in plastic jars with a slot in the lid, where once the shirt is removed the purchaser is encouraged to fill the jar with money to be sent back as a contribution to support the meal center. Casey gave his teammates Labels are for Jars T-shirts and made sure they filled their jars with money to support the Cor Unum Meal Center.
This past May, after the meal center opened its doors, Casey drove up to Lawrence to serve meals to the hungry when his team, the Detroit Tigers, was in town playing at Fenway Park.
“I am very excited about having Sean nearby,” said Father O’Brien. “He is as passionate about feeding the hungry as we at Cor Unum are.”
Tracy Murphy, Cor Unum central committee member, agreed. “By virtue of proximity he can only enhance his involvement here with us,” she said.
In addition, Murphy mused that “Sean’s energy is so contagious, and he’s so passionate about this that I can’t help but think that other Red Sox players will begin to get involved.”
Although he is unsure how Casey’s involvement will grow once he lives in Massachusetts, Father O’Brien said he is “confident” that Casey’s presence will “open new possibilities.”
However, Father O’Brien also pointed out that there are many others who have been invaluable to the success of the Cor Unum Meal Project, both through the Labels are for Jars program and through individual donations.
“I don’t know how we could afford to serve so many people without relying so heavily on the goodwill of so many people,” he said.
Father O’Brien noted that when the Labels are for Jars project began, experts predicted that the campaign would have “a very short shelf life.”
“Not only has Labels not had a very short shelf life, it’s been able to continue to grow year after year,” he said.
This year, the program has created a Lenten guide, helping people to deepen their Lenten experience through the Labels are for Jars program. Through a daily prayer guide, participants are encouraged to be charitable to the meal center.
“To date, we have raised more than $1.2 million from Labels are for Jars,” Father O’Brien said. “In the first year at Cor Unum, we have served 100,000 meals. At the current rate, we could serve more than 200,000 meals this year.”
For more information on the Cor Unum Meal Center, or the Labels are for Jars campaign, or to see how to include Labels are For Jars as part of a Lenten program, visit www.labelsareforjars.org.