This Friday night, the Tampa Bay Rays' annual Pride Night, which began in 2007, will go beyond the usual symbolic support of the local LGBT community.
Undoubtedly, the baseball game against the San Francisco Giants will be of secondary importance to many fans in attendance after Sunday's devastating attack against the queer community in Orlando, Florida. A game will indeed happen and fans will cheer, but the night's true stars will be the people donating blood and money around Tropicana Field to help the victims.
There will be time for pre-game dedications, remembrances and a moment of silence on Friday night, but fans will take it upon themselves to commit to real action. On Tuesday, the Rays announced a series of in-game initiatives for fans to tangibly show their support and help victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
The team is charging $5 for the remaining open seats to the game, and 100 percent of proceeds from those ticket sales will go to the Pulse Victims Fund. Additionally, the Pulse Victims Fund will receive proceeds from the Rays' daily 50/50 raffle, as well as money from donation centers around the ballpark. To incentivize support for critical medical care needed for victims, fans donating blood at Tropicana Field via OneBlood will also get free tickets to a future Rays game.
A Rays spokesman wouldn't disclose the amount of $5 tickets sold over the past day, but told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that the response has been "overwhelming." To accommodate ticket demands, they've decided to open up the highest tier of seats, which are normally tarped off and not for sale — a move the team says they haven't done since they last made the playoffs in 2013. That should free up about 10,000 more tickets for sale.
Equality Florida, a partner in the Rays' annual Pride Night and organizers of the official GoFundMe campaign, announced on Tuesday that the Pulse Victims Fund had broken the previous GoFundMe donation record of $2 million. At the time of publication, over $4 million has been donated to the online fundraiser.
When reached for comment on Wednesday, Michael Farmer, Statewide Deputy Director of Development for Equality Florida, said he was previously unaware of the Rays' "We Are Orlando" dedication and donations, but said they've been a partner organization with the Rays and their annual Pride Night.
"It’s amazing to hear," a surprised Farmer said. "When you think about how many people were affected, we want to make sure to getting their lives back to whole."
"It’s outstanding to see people thinking of any way they can help. The generosity of the Rays is in line with what many others are doing," he added.
As Farmer noted, the Rays aren't the only organization using their resources to assist victims. Disney announced on Tuesday that it's donating $1 million to a support fund and providing free lodging for relatives and friends of victims. Even Chick-fil-A, a company that's donated to anti-gay groups in the past and is famously closed on Sundays, saw local Orlando chain operators open their restaurants on Sunday to provide free food for those in line waiting to donate blood.
To the Orlando shooting victims, every person's individual contribution can make a real difference. Hopefully come Friday, we'll see an empathetic and enthusiastic sell-out crowd of over 41,000 people ready to donate as much as they can at Tropicana Field.
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