When a family friend asked Alex Fairey if she had any old soccer equipment to donate to an orphanage in Ethiopia, the Los Altos resident was eager to help. Fairey not only handed over her kids’ old soccer gear, she also reached out to the community for donations.
She asked friends to donate and posted information about the drive on the Nextdoor website. Three weeks later, Fairey and her family had collected more than 300 pounds of cleats, jerseys, socks, referee gear, trophies, balls and more.
“It was quite unbelievable (because) it was a lot – and more than we ever anticipated,” she said. “It’s about the generosity of our community and how a small request can go such a long way, because I think (the kids in the orphanage) wound up with so much more than they ever thought or even needed.”
In those three weeks, the Fairey family’s garage filled up with donations from residents of Los Altos, Mountain View, Palo Alto and other nearby cities. Fairey’s son, Gavin, helped collect and organize the donations. The rising junior at Los Altos High said the experience taught him not only how supportive the community is, but also the value of helping those in need.
“One of the biggest things I learned was that not everyone has it as good as you do,” Gavin said. “It’s really important to make sure that if you have items that people who are less fortunate don’t, you should share and give. Make sure that you’re doing everything that you can do individually to ensure that you’re helping others.”
The Faireys received donations up to the day their friend, Ernie Ross, left for the airport to deliver the items to Soddo, Ethiopia, earlier this year. The donations first go through Aerie Africa, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that supports the orphanage’s 71 children (ages 2-17).
San Francisco resident Ross got involved with Aerie Africa through a friend. After visiting the orphanage, he was inspired to start a drive for soccer equipment.
“I remember from my first trip how passionate (the kids) were (about) soccer and that it was something that all the kids were able to enjoy. Even those who didn’t play were cheering from the sidelines and a part of the activity,” Ross said. “So I felt like it would be a wonderful gift for them to bring them some equipment, including cleats and new balls. That was what led me to creating a drive and reaching out to others who could help me.”
He also received assistance from United Airlines, which waived the baggage fees on the seven duffel bags of soccer equipment after he wrote the company a letter explaining what Aerie Africa does.
“It was nice feeling the larger support of the community to do good work for others,” Ross said. “It was really rewarding and also made me feel just the goodness of mankind and humanity.”
Ross spent his first few days at the orphanage unpacking all of the equipment he brought. He also played soccer with the kids and learned more about life at the orphanage. Ross said he was introduced to 8-year-old Abenezer, who received a dark-blue bicycle jersey, shoes, shorts and other soccer equipment. Abenezer chose to wear the shirt backward so he could fully enjoy the pockets, Ross said, and wore the jersey with pride every day for a week, like many other kids in the orphan- age.
“It was overwhelming. I had kids wiping tears out of their eyes, giving me the warmest hugs,” Ross said of his reaction to seeing the children try on the equipment. “Kids of all ages were saying thank you – some of the older kids speak English and some of the younger kids only speak Amharic – and for them to say ‘thank you’ in English to make sure I understood was profoundly impactful on me.”
Ross and the Faireys hope to bring more joy to the orphans in the future by organizing another drive.
For more information on Aerie Africa, visit aerieafrica.org.