MINNEAPOLIS -- Justin Morneau stood in the middle of a small group gathered inside the Salvation Army Harbor Light on Monday night, laughing at jokes about the Fu Manchu facial hair he was sporting and displaying a kind of sheepish smile every time one of the people stopped to tell him, 'Thank you.'It was a special night for the Twins first baseman and his wife, Krista, as they gathered at Harbor Light for a second straight year to hand out 25 turkey dinners to homeless veterans for Thanksgiving. The small gathering on this night is one of many things Morneau does throughout the year to give back in the community, although most go unpublicized since he would rather avoid drawing attention to what he's doing. For Morneau, the simple act of helping others is more than enough reward and he acknowledges that giving back this time of year takes on an extra-special meaning.
"The holidays can be a tough time for a lot of people and families," Morneau said. "There's so much emphasis put on shopping and the commercial side of the holidays. The holidays are supposed to be about family and giving and seeing smiles on people's faces from small gestures. We realize we are very fortunate and have been very blessed, and we know that every small gesture or act makes a difference."Being a major player in charitable efforts is a tremendous source of pride for the Twins organization. The club strives to put high-quality teams on the field every year, but there is no question it's the work that's done off the field where the franchise really shines. So as the club approaches that time of the year when everyone reflects back, there sure is plenty to be thankful for in 2010. Of course, the team's impact in the community would not be as strong if it weren't for the many efforts made by the Twins players. "Players are the ones that lead the way," said Kevin Smith, who is the team's executive director of public affairs and the Twins Community Fund. "It means so much to have players who not only understand the importance of community activity and involvement, but actually participate in it willingly and joyfully. The way our guys get involved in the community is something that I think is really unmatched in our sport and certainly in our state." Morneau, the Twins' 2010 Roberto Clemente Award winner for community service, has made himself a fixture in the local Twin Cities community. This past June, he and Krista held their second annual Casino Night to help raise money and awareness for juvenile arthritis. Currently, Morneau is sponsoring the Justin Morneau's Winter Warm-Up Coat Drive, which will give gently used or new coats to local homeless and in-need families. The coat drive runs through Dec. 10 at Twins Pro Shop locations and the Twins Majestic Clubhouse Store, and more than 200 coats have already been donated. Fans who donate coats will receive 15 percent off their store purchase, although it does not include game-used merchandise, gift cards or tickets. The first 40 people to donate at each store will receive an autographed 8"x10" photograph of Morneau. "It gets very cold here in the winter time and we felt like this was one thing that could make a difference," said Morneau. "People sometimes have an extra coat in pretty good shape in a closet somewhere and we figured, why not donate it and help others stay warm." Morneau certainly has been seeking many ways to help the community, but he's far from the only Twins player to be involved extensively in giving back. Catcher Joe Mauer has taken steps to making baseball more accessible for local children. Mauer's charity of choice is the "Friends of St. Paul Baseball," which is an organization that helps improve the baseball facilities for youth in St. Paul. Mauer, with help from his family, hosts an annual golf tournament fundraiser and has helped raise more than $30,000 for the charity. Michael Cuddyer held his fourth annual Celebrity Waiter Dinner this past August, and the proceeds from ticket sales and both the silent and live auctions raised money for the Boys & Girls Club. Cuddyer also helped the Twins to win a $200,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project to help the Courage Center's Rolling Twins youth softball wheelchair team to get a proper field to play on. "It doesn't matter if you're in a wheelchair or if you're running around the bases, you deserve to have actual bases to go around," Cuddyer said. "These kids are now going to be able to play on a real field rather than play in a parking lot. It's a place where they can call home now. ... I'm just grateful I'm in a position where I was able to help them." Through all of its various efforts as an entire organization, the Twins were once again a major player in the local community. From raising funds for local charities through events such as TwinsFest to donating items to more than 5,000 fundraising events and giving out more than 20,000 tickets through the TwinsCare program, the club has worked to make its impact felt throughout the 2010 calendar year. And while the season is over following yet another American League Central title for the Twins, their charitable efforts are something that go on year-round. "The Pohlad family has done so much in the community without seeking credit and everything really starts from the top of the organization," Morneau said. "From the golf tournaments to the dinners and Casino night, it's really like a family effort of giving back to a community that has been so great to us. You always feel like you would like to do more with so many great causes out there and so many people in need. "We are always trying to find ways to accomplish more, and I think it just stats with small steps and just kind of builds over time. You just have to remember every little bit can make a difference."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.