OAKLAND -- The Oakland Raiders have a super fan who has turned the definition of a tailgate party upside down.
For more than a decade, M.O.B. Charities founder Gregory "Griz" Jones has been throwing weekend-long tailgate parties across the street from the Oakland Coliseum's 66th Avenue gate that benefit local nonprofits, build community spirit and feed the homeless.
M.O.B., which stands for Make Oakland Better, or Make Others Better when it's helping groups outside Oakland, stages promotional events for other charities year-round but is best known for its tailgate fundraisers on a stretch of 66th Avenue at Coliseum Way known as M.O.B. Alley, home of the 66th M.O.B.
The tailgate parties start the night before the Raiders' preseason home games, and run over two nights during the regular season. Each tailgate works to benefit a local nonprofit's needs, whether it be supplies, cash or volunteers. Everyone and anyone -- unless they're a troublemaker -- is welcome to come and eat for free, Raiders fan or not. Jones has been feeding the homeless at his overnight tailgates since 1999, and began using the gatherings to help nonprofits since the inception of M.O.B. Charities in 2003.
He's also the founder of the "Forever Oakland" movement, dedicated to getting the Oakland Raiders a new stadium built in Oakland.
"M.O.B., in a nutshell, is a combination of my desire to be a fan for humanity and make the world a better place, and my experience of being an Oakland Raiders fan since I was a child," said Jones, a 44-year-old Bay Area native with roots in the East and South Bay. "I am a deeply spiritual person and, like with everything I do in my life, my job has to be spirit-driven."
Jones feeds fans, out-of-towners, city workers and really anyone who comes by with donations from companies and volunteers. Everyone eats for free, with an option of making a cash donation. His annual opening weekend festival Sept. 11-14, in recognition of the first regular-season home opener, will have various charities on hand giving out information. After that, each home game weekend tailgate will be dedicated to a specific charity.
"One of the things I really appreciate about the M.O.B. is that they serve anybody," said Samantha Kahn, program director at the Alameda Food Back, for which the 66th M.O.B. does turkey and food drives every holiday season. "They don't have any requirements about who you are and where you are from to have a good time with them.
"They clearly do good work feeding people on the streets. I know they feed a lot of vets. They are a good bunch of folks."
Montera Middle School Assistant Principal Ashanti Branch started going to the tailgates in 2009 to see if the M.O.B. would be a good partner for his nonprofit, the Ever Forward Club, that helps underserved and at-risk youth. He immediately liked the positive energy at M.O.B. Alley and wanted to share the experience with his students and their families.
Now, every November, the 66th M.O.B. hosts the Ever Forward Club's food and clothing drive for the homeless and Branch, as the executive director of a growing organization, has learned a lot from Jones about asking for support from the community.
"Inside the stadium, I don't think Griz sits down the whole time. I think he's yelling the entire game, he leaves with no voice. He's all about his team," Branch said. "When he goes back to the alley, he's all about the community. It's about how do I build up the city that we're in.
"He has a huge heart and the community space he creates makes people want to be there," Branch said. "People are always passing through but on some nights I will swing by at 11 p.m. and he'll be the only one there, sitting at the fire roasting a hot dog."
Peggy Holmes, who lives in Washington, D.C., said that when she founded her local booster club, the D.C. Metro Raiders in 2002, she reached out to the Raider Nation for help. Jones quickly became a mentor.
He taught her how to make her club a charitable organization, and all the business aspects that entails. Holmes was impressed by Jones' use of email, social media and the 66th M.O.B. YouTube channel to keep the Raider Nation and other supporters abreast of all their work and keep them engaged. Members of her group stop by M.O.B. Alley when they visit Oakland.
"He was 3,000 miles away and he didn't know us, but he was always available to us. He wanted us to succeed," Holmes said. "That, to me, is reflective of the kind of person he is. Even to strangers, he will reach out and help."
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.
Claim to fame: Founder of Make Oakland Better (M.O.B.) Charities and godfather of the M.O.B. Alley tailgates
Quote: "My lifestyle is my job. I wake up with my job, I fall asleep with job. I love my job."
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