Pandemic Teamwork: Partnering with the NFL to Fight COVID-19

When the 2020 National Football League draft was interrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19, the league wanted to show its support for nonprofit organizations fighting the pandemic. Through a giving campaign called the Draft-a-Thon, NFL fans donated more than $7 million, which the league donated to six designated nonprofits, one of those was the CDC Foundation.

While half the support raised went directly to the six organizations, the other half was divided among the NFL’s 32 teams to allocate to nonprofits they wished to support. Of those teams, the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens chose to donate to the CDC Foundation.

“Prior to this effort we didn’t have a history with the CDC Foundation,” said Keenan Harrell, community relations manager for the Baltimore Ravens. “But once we learned about the Foundation, naturally it was a no brainer to support them.”

Keenan Harrell, community relations manager for the Baltimore Ravens

Staff and volunteers of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs canvas Baltimore City during the 2020 census to share information with city residents about the support available during COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Catalina Rodriguez Lima.

Catalina Rodriguez Lima, founding director of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs

Working together, the Ravens and the CDC Foundation channeled their donation to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, a Baltimore-based organization working with the city’s underserved migrant community. Comprised largely of frontline workers from the construction and service sectors, Baltimore’s Latinx community has been hard hit by the pandemic. Unfortunately, most in this community have limited savings on hand to weather a disruption of income.

“Because this virus requires you to isolate, many family members were confronted with staying home sick or going out to earn a living for their family,” said Catalina Rodriguez Lima, founding director of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “That’s a hard decision to have to make.”

Designed as a way to allow COVID-positive migrants to safely quarantine, the project identified and enrolled recipients through a network of 17 local community-based organizations across Baltimore City. Through Phase 1 of the project, implemented between June and September 2020, impacted families received $500 and individuals $250. In Phase 2, which is ongoing, affected families are receiving $800 and individuals $400, provided through a debit card. With this support, families are then able to safely isolate and not risk spreading the virus through work.

“Preserving public health in Baltimore starts with ensuring all of our residents have access to the adequate care and support they deserve,” said Brandon Scott, Mayor of Baltimore. “As Baltimore continues to overcome the challenges of COVID-19, applying an equity approach will help certify that economic and health resources are inclusive of immigrant communities regardless of language, immigrant status or the ability to access technology.”

Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at an event in Baltimore about the city’s COVID-19 relief programs. Photo courtesy of the Mayor's office.

Having registered over 2,500 families in the first phase, the project is now targeting an additional 1,200 families with financial support, and through case managers is connecting recipients with public benefits like food services and eviction protection. That support, Rodriguez Lima says, has relieved some pressure on families, who are now often using their cash to pay for utilities and other pressing needs. For families affected by COVID-19, she says, the impact of the program has been profound.

“Though it’s not a huge amount of money, our cash assistance program has really had a stabilizing effect,” said Rodriguez Lima.

Since the Baltimore Ravens first formed in 1996, they have had a deep connection to the city, providing grants and other support to hundreds of organizations each year. With the outbreak of COVID-19, Harrell says, the team knew it had to use its reach to help those affected.

“With the start of the pandemic, we saw a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in the community,” Harrell said. “And the CDC Foundation was a segue into doing that.”



The NFL Draft-A-Thon returned in April 2021, and the CDC Foundation was honored to once again be one of the league’s designated nonprofits! Through the support received from Draft-A-Thon, we will be focusing on health inequities and the promotion of vital community conditions including safety, nutrition, housing, education and meaningful work. To learn more, visit