PHOENIX – The National Football League’s environmental program, NFL Green, has left a lasting impact in the Phoenix area in the lead-up to this year’s Super Bowl.
On Thursday, NFL Green assisted the Arizona community through its Super Kids-Super Sharing Donation Project as part of “Green Week,” which features community greening initiatives in partnership with the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, Arizona Cardinals, The Salvation Army, Verizon, and the Valley of the Sun YMCA.
Students from the Phoenix area gathered at The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Center to donate sports equipment, games, school supplies and books. More than 70 schools and Valley of the Sun YMCAs donated roughly 25,000 items for 100 recipient schools and youth organizations, which also received a gift from Wilson Sporting Goods.
Hernaldo Ruiz accompanied six students from Jack Barnes Elementary School in Queen Creek to donate items. He hopes Thursday’s event serves as a lesson about the importance of striving to make a difference in the community.
“You show them that underprivileged kids don’t have a lot of the stuff that they need to be able to thrive in school,” Ruiz said. “Stuff like this, being able to get them donations, really helps out underprivileged kids.”
Garrett Brolsma, associate vice president of programs and operations at Valley of the Sun YMCA, worked with team leaders from the organization’s 13 locations to ensure donations left a lasting impact.
Valley of the Sun YMCAs also received donations, which Brolsma noted takes some burden off of the organization.
“It takes our resources that are very scarce and precious at The Y, and it allows us to focus them on areas that don’t require supplies and things like that,” Brolsma said.
The Super Kids-Super Sharing Donation Project experience is an annual Super Bowl tradition that started before the 2000 Super Bowl in Atlanta, where three schools donated 200 pieces of sports equipment.
Susan Groh, associate director of the NFL’s environmental program, said the event grew over time thanks to each host city’s community support.
“I think what has created that is just a lot of enthusiasm,” Groh said. “We reach out really broadly to the community, and schools love this project. Kids get the whole thing about helping other kids, so that’s really helped us grow.”
This year, the event returned to a full in-person experience for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic. Planning for the event began months before donations started rolling in in huge batches.
Jennie Patel, vice president of social responsibility and volunteers for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, said the committee and NFL Green walked through The Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Center in June before selecting it as the host venue.
While the Super Kids-Super Sharing Donation Project is unique from NFL Green’s other events, NFL Environmental Program director Jack Groh said the event meets the types of sustainability the league tries to achieve.
For starters, the program satisfies the organization’s environmental goals by ensuring items do not go to waste.
“Most of this stuff is going to end up in a landfill if it doesn’t find a home,” Jack Groh said. “A lot of these books might have sat in somebody’s garage or attic or closet for years and years until it finally ended up in a landfill. Meanwhile, there are kids who are desperate for books in school and in reading programs.
“The economic piece is teachers can’t afford this stuff. Coaches can’t afford enough equipment, cleats, balls, bats and all this stuff for their kids. Every school has a really limited budget for everything.”
Finally, the event fosters a place for people from all walks of life to work together for the same cause.
“If you look around, you see different races, different ethnicities and different religions,” Jack Groh said. “It’s a wide cross-section of people in Arizona and you and I know that when kids grow up, oftentimes they just play with the kids in their neighborhood and their school.
“If their neighborhood is all Hispanic, they grow up with just Hispanics. If their neighborhood is mostly white, they grow up with mostly white kids, and that’s just the way it works. But here’s a chance for kids from all these different demographics to be in one place for one day and doing something that has an actual purpose.
“You may look different from me, you may come from a different neighborhood, a different school, (but) at least for this one day, you and I have something in common.”
Donators and event organizers hope kids take away a bigger lesson from taking the Super Kids-Super Sharing Donation Project event.
“It shows them that volunteering is great and showing them that helping others is a good thing,” Ruiz said. “(It’s) making sure that they are not always on their phone or doing something they are not supposed to, but helping in the community and helping them better themselves and everything around them.”
Added Patel: “I think it starts when they collect the items to donate. They know that they are donating to underserved communities. Making a difference in somebody else’s life gives them that feeling that they’re making an impact and helping make their community a better place.”