By Priya Idiculla
A soccer uniform is what bands players together and makes a soccer team, well, a team. Many schoolchildren in southern Africa cannot play on a team with this simple necessity for fear of ruining their only outfit that they play in, a school uniform.
The Downtown Soccer League is working with a Brooklyn-based group called U.S.-Africa Children’s Fellowship to remedy this problem. The league is collecting old soccer uniforms, shoes, and balls so they can be shipped to help schoolchildren in Zimbabwe, many who have been orphaned, enjoy the game.
The uniform donation program started when Cheryl Moch, whose daughter plays in the league, was impressed by the Fellowship’s efforts after running into Sheri Saltzberg, part of the husband and wife team that started the Fellowship, at the Upper West Side Jewish Community Center.
“Sheri mentioned how much the uniforms, in the past, have transformed the children,” Moch said. “They started getting involved in creating soccer teams and this allowed them to play without fear of ruining their one outfit.”
Moch contacted Don Schuck, the league’s president, about possible uniform donations. Schuck knew that Elizabeth Hovey, a coach in the league and also chairperson of the Book Fair Committee for P.S. 234, as well as Leah Singer, Julie Matsumoto, and other parents were looking for a charity to donate their children’s’ old soccer uniforms to and recommended the Fellowship.
Hovey said that they are hoping to get permission to collect the supplies at area schools and make this an ongoing program every year. She added that the schools have been especially receptive to the program. “P.S. 234 principal Lisa Ripperger was very welcoming to our effort and excited to get the kids involved in something that would help others,” she said.
“This program has opened many eyes,” said Singer. “The community wants to be involved with such a worthy cause. This is also important for the children that learn a huge lesson from this. They see that children in another country will be using their retired uniforms instead of letting the uniforms pile up in a drawer.”
Matsumoto said that now is the perfect time for uniform donations since the soccer season ends this weekend. “As parents we have a nanosecond to think about what to do next with scheduling,” she said. “Having this all coordinated will make it easier for the donations to be made.”
The Mailboxes, Etc. at 295 Greenwich St. is set to donate boxes for the uniforms to be dropped in. The boxes will be located at the Battery Park City ballfields on Nov. 18 and 19, or at P.S. 234 at 292 Greenwich St., P.S./I.S. 89 at 201 Warren St., P.S. 150 at 334 Greenwich St., or Claremont Prepatory School at 41 Broad St. on Nov. 20-28.
Mark Grashow, a retired New York City schoolteacher for 35 years, and wife Sheri Saltzberg, a public health administrator that worked in Pediatric AIDS, founded U.S.-Africa Children’s Fund in September of 2003.
Grashow said that the uniforms and other supplies like sneakers are very important for the children. “Many of the kids have to walk over six miles to school,” he said. “If it is cold and they don’t have sneakers, they have to miss out on their education.”
Grashow and Saltzberg decided to start the Fellowship after traveling to a friend’s wedding in Lusaka, Zambia, and visiting with friends in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. They had the chance to visit schools and orphanages in both Zambia and Zimbabwe and they could not ignore the obvious lack of supplies.
“Being a public school math teacher, I knew that we’d throw away 500 books at a time,” Grashow said. “We had nothing to do with them if there was a new edition.”
Grashow said that raising money and collecting materials was only the beginning. The Fellowship connected with the Organization of Rural Associations for Progress, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping local residents and communities develop small businesses, viable agricultural and comprehensive educational systems. “They were the conduit that allowed our schools to connect with their schools,” Grashow said.
Grashow and Saltzberg fill up 40-foot containers with much needed supplies twice a year to ship from New York to Durban, South Africa. The containers are then offloaded to a train and continue en route to Zimbabwe. Grashow said that shipping costs and extraneous expenses total up to $10,000 per container.
“They are a very locally based grassroots group that is just growing,” Moch said. “It is touching to see that they are taking a lot of the expenses out of their own pocket and you know they really care.”
“A lot of people love to do this and help out,” Grashow said. “Anyone would hate to see things go to waste when people could really use them.”