Saturday, April 14, 2018


Mo likes Chick-fil-A: Mariano Rivera is often in Wilmington, Delaware for his charitable activities and is a fan of Chick-fil-A

"When Gandia [Executive Director of the Mariano Rivera Foundation] and her husband retired as missionaries, they decided to stay in Delaware. They liked that it was small and close to New York, Philadelphia and Washington. "I really love the people. We could have left, but we decided let's just retire here," said Gandia, who is also a fan of the Chick-fil-A not far from her home, as is Rivera."

4/13/2018, "Famed Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera finds his charitable home in Delaware," The News Journal,, Ryan Cormier
"Based out of an office in Stanton, the Mariano Rivera Foundation has worked to give back to Delaware through donations to churches, backpack giveaways and an upcoming 5k and Kids Run. Daniel Sato/The News Journal"

"For more than a decade, famed New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera has been quietly giving in Delaware.

Until last year's most public gesture — a backpack giveaway in Wilmington's Rodney Square for about 400 children — much of his First State work had been under the radar.

The month after the Yankees beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2009 World Series with Rivera himself tossing the final pitch, he was in a Georgetown church donating more than $50,000 from his private Mariano Rivera Foundation, which he founded two decades ago.

Since then, baseball's all-time save leader has been busily helping First Staters in need by giving away hundreds of backpacks stuffed with school supplies and thousands of turkey dinners, even going door-to-door one year.

So what's with the Panamanian pitcher's affinity for Delaware?

The executive director of the public Mariano Rivera Foundation, Naomi Gandia, happens to live near Newark [Delaware] with her husband, Mario, a retired bishop. They also happen to be Rivera's lifelong "spiritual" parents, although Gandia publicly shies away from discussing their personal connection.

When Rivera decided to retire in 2013, the Yankees and teams across the league wanted to donate during his retirement tour, so he created a public version of his foundation for underprivileged children.

That's when his mostly private work began to become more public, leading to the realization that his foundation needed a headquarters, now in a co-working office park near Christiana Mall.

Next month, the foundation will host its biggest Delaware event yet when Rivera himself returns to host the Mariano Rivera Foundation 5K and Kids Run on May 19 in Wilmington's Canby Park to help raise funds for next year's backpack giveaway and other programs.

The first race, which was held last year in Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania, raised $42,000 for the man who wore No. 42 on his back.

A man of God raised by a Christian evangelical family, the self-educated Rivera quietly gave 10 percent of his Yankees contracts back to his private foundation, Gandia said, along with every penny from his endorsement deals.

When Rivera was in Rodney Square last summer, he explained where his drive to help comes from and why he does much of it in Delaware, pointing to the Gandias.

"The Lord has blessed me with a lot and to remember where I came from, I just have to give back," he said to a group of local reporters. "Delaware is a special place for me. ... My spiritual parents live here — the people who have loved me, taken care of me and have been there for me. We're always looking for stuff to do here for the kids."

This new public push makes both Rivera and Gandia uncomfortable, even though it will likely mean more donations.

Even so, Gandia points not to herself or her husband for Rivera's giving. She said it was the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who helped instill Rivera's altruism.

Steinbrenner — the man known as the Boss in New York media for his brash style — also had a softer, charitable side that went mostly unreported because he stipulated that his donations be private. 

He also founded the Silver Shield Foundation in 1982, a nonprofit that pays for the education of children of New York firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.

Steinbrenner had been quoted often as saying, "If you do something good for someone, and more than two people know about it, you didn't do it for the right reason."

"Mariano took that very seriously and, of course, we've always been giving, so it felt right with us," she said. "That's how we became the Mariano Rivera Foundation and gave and gave and gave. And we're still giving.

Silberglied has seen Gandia and Rivera, 48, torn between keeping their charity secret and making it known. As he puts it, "It's an interesting conundrum. Giving on a personal basis and not saying too much is very meaningful, but you also get to give more if you publicize it."

Adds Gandia, "We are not here to make a name for ourselves or lift up Mariano Rivera. We're here to lift up the people. And we realize you have to let the people in need know that you're here."

The foundation focuses on education for underprivileged children through scholarships, back-to-school backpack events, holiday food drives and monetary contributions. Foundation events have been held everywhere from New Jersey and Florida to Panama and Puerto Rico.

Silberglied said the foundation is as hands-on as it gets. Rivera, Rivera's wife Clara and their children, along with Gandia, Silberglied and others, all volunteer their time. As a small, nimble charity, they follow their heart in deciding who to help.

Wilmington, 2017
Children eat snacks at the Mariano Rivera Foundation's backpack giveaway in Wilmington's Rodney Square last year. (Photo: Courtesy of Mariano Rivera Foundation)

For the past several years, the Riveras have all have been in Delaware for their annual turkey giveaway – a meal that comes with all the trimmings. They did one event on the Riverfront, and last year's giveaway was held at the William "Hicks" Anderson Community Center in West Center City.

"It was a very festive atmosphere with a lot of pictures being taken, a lot of hugs and a lot of gratitude," said U'Gundi Jacobs, director of the center. "And going into the winter, it helps families who struggle — maybe even letting them save some of those canned goods for a time after they're done with that big, fresh turkey."

Since one church didn't give away its vouchers in 2016, the whole gang went door to door offering the dinners to random families, even stopping cars and making the offer.

Gandia remembers one woman in her late 20s with four children who opened her door and was utterly shocked by the generosity, as well as the timing for her family.

She kept saying, "Oh my God, oh my God," before asking for a hug while sobbing.

"She told me, 'You don't understand. We don't have any food in this house. What you are giving me is for the rest of the week,'" Gandia remembered.

The woman then asked if there was any other food left over. She knew a friend around the block in need. Soon, they were all marching up the block and delivering another dinner. 

"And that woman literally jumped and yelled, 'I have food! I have food!' And that's need right here in Wilmington," Gandia said.

Gandia, whose missionary work with her husband brought her everywhere from California and Vermont to Peru and South America, moved to Delaware in the mid- to late 1980s. They began working with small groups and were drawn to the people at Georgetown's Iglesia de Dios de la Profecia (Church of God of Prophecy).

"They were so needy at the time," she said of the church, which had only a handful of people when they first met and is now building a multimillion-dollar facility with help from the foundation. "When we go there, it's like homecoming. They call me Grandma and call my husband Grandpa."

During their 2009 church visit with Rivera — a visit that turned out to be a lot more public than other visits — the giving didn't stop with the foundation's $50,000 donation.

Gandia told Rivera they should start an offering because there were so many people in attendance. She said she then challenged him to see who could raise more, ending up with about $75,000 — a number than included a personal contribution from Rivera. 

When Gandia and her husband retired as missionaries, they decided to stay in Delaware. They liked that it was small and close to New York, Philadelphia and Washington. 

"I really love the people. We could have left, but we decided let's just retire here," said Gandia, who is also a fan of the Chick-fil-A not far from her home, as is Rivera.

She still remembers the first time she brought Rivera to Christiana Mall while he was still with the Yankees. A young boy noticed him and followed them for a while before asking Gandia if he would take a photo.

"We literally had to run out of the mall," she laughed at the memory.

These days, Gandia is building a team around her at the foundation as she slowly steps away from running it. After that, she plans to live happily in Delaware, but Rivera, who lives in New York,
has other ideas.

"He has these big plans that when we really, really retire, that we're going to live with them," she said. "The only way I would move out of here is if I get Alzheimer's, don't know what's happening and they take me. I just love this place.""

Contact Ryan Cormier of The News Journal at or (302) 324-2863. Follow him on Facebook (@ryancormier), Twitter (@ryancormier) and Instagram (@ryancormier).


What: Mariano Rivera Foundation 5K & Kids Run
When: May 19, 9 a.m.
Where: Canby Park, 1706 Oak St., Wilmington
Cost: $20 for adults and $10 for kids under 18. On May 1, adult pricing jumps to $25 and $15 for kids.
Sign-up: Spectators are also asked to sign up. If you do, you can buy a half-price T-shirt.
To donate:


The Mariano Rivera Foundation representatives will be at Frawley Stadium for Sunday's Wilmington Blue Rocks game at 1:35 p.m. as part of Jackie Robinson Day. All Blue Rocks players will wear No. 42, and their Brooklyn Dodgers-style jerseys will be auctioned during the game with proceeds going to the foundation."


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