For years, local soccer coach Ernesto Cruz has visited his home country of El Salvador with an extra piece of luggage packed with used soccer uniforms for delivery to kids living there. But this past summer, Cruz and members of his California Youth Soccer Association under-17 girls' soccer team in Portola Valley (Alpine FC Sting) traveled to El Salvador with nearly 1,000 pounds of uniforms and other soccer gear to donate.
Cruz, who immigrated to the Bay Area from El Salvador in the 1980s, also coaches the Palo Alto High School varsity girls' soccer team and other club teams in the area.
Cruz and the Sting players were able to collect and bring with them about 500 uniforms, 150 pairs of soccer shoes, 50 soccer balls, and hundreds of T-shirts and miscellaneous soccer items contributed by Alpine FC, AYSO coaches, and families in Atherton, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, and Woodside.
Local high schools Menlo-Atherton, Sacred Heart Prep, Woodside Priory, Menlo and Palo Alto also contributed uniforms.
The Alpine club alone contributed more than 150 new uniforms the club could not use due to a switch to a new uniform vendor.
"We were amazed by the number of donations we received," Sting player Savannah McKinnon said.
"It shows not only how generous our community is, but also how much we have and can contribute if some one just asks," teammate Sara Orton said.
Cruz's friend and mentor, Salvador Mariona, a soccer legend in El Salvador, hosted the trip and arranged through the mayor's office in San Salvador for transportation and security for the girls throughout their seven-day stay, which included two exhibition soccer games as well as the delivery of the soccer uniforms and gear to El Salvadoran kids.
Mariona's son Tony expressed thanks on behalf of the kids who received the uniforms and other gear: "You have no idea what that means to a kid that probably would never be able to buy a good pair of soccer shoes or a nice uniform. Thank you and God bless you all."
The girls' first exhibition game (a 1-1 tie) was against San Salvador's girls' team (whose members included players from the El Salvador National team) in the 50,000-seat Estadio Cuscatlan, the largest stadium in Central America.
They played their second game (a 2-1 victory) in Izalco's Salvador Mariona Stadium, named after the trip's host. The Sting team was supplemented by El Salvadoran club players, giving the Sting girls an opportunity to learn first-hand about life in El Salvador as they traveled and practiced together,
"It was amazing to be able to bond with the El Salvadoran players and hear about the struggles they face just to play soccer," said Sting player Ali Jordan.
It was in Izalco that Sting team representatives Eugenia Jernick, Ali Jordan, Savannah McKinnon, Sara Orton, Brittany Scheuch and Ali Spindt delivered the bulk of the soccer uniforms and related gear they had brought with them.
The mayor of Izalco, the town band, and more than 100 local soccer-loving children hosted and greeted the girls and their families. Izalco Mayor Roberto Alvarado sent his thanks to Cruz and the Sting players: "It was an honor to have you all here in Izalco, and we await your return. Thank you so much for all the soccer equipment that you brought."