PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles have a new coach, a new starting quarterback and new use for their stadium.
The organization turned Lincoln Financial Field into a COVID-19 vaccination site for members of the autism community. More than 1,000 individuals, their caregivers and families were vaccinated last Saturday.
"We’ve been synonymous with being an advocate for the autism community, so I started receiving phone calls from families to say: ‘I know you don’t do this, but can you help us?’" Ryan Hammond, the executive director of the Eagles Autism Foundation, said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. "They were stories like: ‘My child hasn’t left the house in over a year because they struggle with social distancing and wearing a mask,’ or ‘we’re eligible for a vaccine but we haven’t been able to go because my child waited in a line for hours at a convention center.’ So while there is different opportunities available for those who are eligible for the vaccine, that accessibility became a real challenge for families. So in just hearing their stories it really motivated me to say — what can we do about this."
The Eagles partnered with Divine Providence Village, a residential facility outside Philadelphia that serves individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, to provide the vaccines. Everyone who received a vaccine last week will return to the stadium this month for a second dose.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has a personal connection to autism, so funding its research has been an important initiative for him and the franchise. The team’s foundation has raised more than $10 million in three years.
"Jeffrey Lurie is the real visionary behind this," Hammond said. "He dreamed to use our platform really to drive critical resources and funding for the autism community, and doing that, recognizing that football in particular is a unifier, knowing that this could be really special. ... Every dollar that we raise is invested in cutting-edge research and programs, so from a philanthropic standpoint you feel really great about investing in a cause that truly is giving back where every dollar is transformational.
"It’s evolved into so much more than a day, which started out with our fundraiser, our Eagles Autism Challenge, bike ride, run, walk. The entire organization there has just become weaved authentically into the fabric of our brand and really it’s about who we are every day."
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