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12/15/10 5:20 PM EST

Blue Jays serve up winning meal for kids

Anthopoulos, staff visit Toronto school to dish out holiday meals

TORONTO -- Alex Anthopoulos is a popular man around town these days as he continues the process of building the Blue Jays into a contending team.

And nearly 400 children at Stanley Public School on Wednesday gave the Blue Jays' general manager an enthusiastic welcome when he addressed them.

"Come down to the ballpark next summer, we'd love to have you," Anthopoulos said. "This is as loud a group of fans as I've ever seen. It's great."

But A.A. was upstaged by someone whose name carried only a single A. That would be Blue Jays mascot Ace, who was given rock-star treatment by the students at the school in Toronto's Jane-Finch community.

At one stage, a throng of children had Ace cornered, and he sought refuge on a table as his admirers -- wearing Blue Jays caps that had been distributed for the occasion -- pressed forward, holding out scraps of paper and pencils to get autographs.

It was all in good fun as Ace, Anthopoulos and members of the Blue Jays' front-office staff visited the school to serve up a holiday lunch. It continued the Blue Jays' long-standing partnership with Toronto Children's Breakfast Clubs.

"We work with them quite often to distribute tickets and bring some of the kids that are in these schools down to the ballpark," said Holly Purdon, manager of community marketing and player relations for the Blue Jays.

She said that "A lot of the schools -- especially in some of the high-risk neighbourhoods around the city where the Breakfast Clubs reside -- and children participate in the Jays Care Foundation's Rookie League program as well."

And that is the case for many of the children at Stanley Public School.

Anthopoulos, who just completed his first year as the general manager, is busy in the offseason, but Wednesday's session is something he enjoys taking part in.

"I'd like to do more of them," he said in between giving autographs. "I'll never turn these down. I think it's an honor.

"I understand it's also a responsibility of the title and the role, but I don't take it for granted at all. I understand the importance of it. I never take myself that seriously, but if I can make an impact and help, I'll be thrilled to do it."

The Children's Breakfast Clubs is a nonprofit charitable organization that serves an estimated 4,000 meals each week in the Greater Toronto area.

"We have 26 locations across the city where we feed kids before they go to school in the morning," said Rick Gosling, the president and founder of the organization. "And it's a club. The kids come and participate. The Blue Jays have been an integral part in that since Day 1 back in 1984. [Former general manager] Pat Gillick and [CEO and president] Paul Beeston used to help us in having tickets."

One of the clubs in the Lawrence-Keele area of Toronto, serving an estimated 4,280 meals annually, was named for the Jays Care Foundation in 2003.

In addition to serving meals, the Children's Breakfast Clubs also provide social and intellectual stimulation to children in the communities where the clubs are located.

This includes arts and crafts, homework clubs, reading circles, art and photographic exhibitions, theater and visits from special guests. The children also are given a chance to take part in activities that would be otherwise unavailable to them -- a bike program, tree plantings, trips to Ottawa and to sporting events like Blue Jays games and ball-hockey tournaments.

"It's not just to feed the kids," said Gosling, who was at the school on Wednesday. "It's to make sure they get an opportunity for outings. We do all kinds of events and activities with the kids."

Gosling, who was a social worker and now serves in race relations in Toronto, also was involved in getting the Rookie League started in Toronto with the Blue Jays. It started as an anti-drug program.

"We asked the Blue Jays if they would sponsor and help support in encouraging the kids to stay away from drugs," Gosling said. "And Dr. Bobby Brown was starting the rookie-ball program at the same time. So we took the two concepts and put them together. That's how it started here in Toronto."

He mentioned Blue Jays from the past who were involved with the program, players like Mookie Wilson, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart.

Stewart used to hold a Christmas part for children at Rogers Centre, then the SkyDome.

"All of those guys were part of this program and played a role," Gosling said. "They continue with this example."

Larry Millson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.