Bay Area family rallies community to collect 300 pounds of soccer equipment for Ethiopian orphanage

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Sports has been known to bridge people of different countries, cultures, and tongues. And soccer has been said to be the most universal language on the planet.

So when Bay Area resident Ernie Ross set out for a trip to volunteer at an orphanage in Ethiopia earlier this year, he put out a request for donated soccer equipment to bring to the children he would soon meet.

The response was incredible, as it demonstrated how a community can bring about change half a world away.

Ross's request touched a Los Altos family in particular who wanted to make an impact. The Fairey family, who has known Ross for years, went the extra mile once they heard about their friend's efforts and spread the word about the donation drive on the networking site Nextdoor.

The family also put out requests with the Mountain View Los Altos Soccer Club and local school chat groups, according to mom Alex Fairey.

Her son 16-year-old Gavin, who is a soccer player himself, was especially motivated to help and played an active role in collecting the equipment. The hard work and efforts to get the word out paid off.

For three weeks, the donated equipment poured in, filling up the Fairey's garage. An estimated 50 people responded to the call for help. 

The donations came in all the way up until the day Ross left for his trip, resulting in an impressive 300 pounds in equipment including cleats, soccer balls, and jerseys. 

Working with the U.S.-based non-profit group, Aerie Africa, and with the help of United Airlines, which waived the baggage fees on the huge duffel bags of equipment, Ross delivered the items to an elated group of children at the CCC Children's home, an orphanage housing children ages 3-18.

Ross said some of the children were so excited, they refused to take off their jersey for days. He said the gratitude expressed by the children brought on tears.

For the Faireys the entire experience inspired them to want to do more.

"My goal has always been to teach my boys to give back in whatever way possible," Alex Fairey explained, adding that the collection drive that began with Ross and Aerie Africa has become a springboard for more opportunities to give back.

The family is now seeking ways to continue to help in Ethiopia and also looking for ways to help here at home. 

"Gavin is working on a drive that will take place this fall for a couple of local soccer organizations," Fairey said, adding that they're currently planning another collection drive for Aerie Africa. And next year, she said she and Gavin plan to join Ross on his next trip to Ethiopia to deliver donated equipment.

Fairey said the response her family received from the community really motivated this desire to continue to do the work. 

It wasn't just equipment they received from their neighbors as part of their efforts. Fairey said they received thank you comments that poured in from strangers on Nextdoor. One neighbor expressed her appreciation for the work they were doing, explaining that she used to live in Africa and shared a passion for giving.

The family saw a community's desire to come together to make a difference.

"Mostly impressed by how sincerely people wanted to help," Fairey said, "This is what inspired us to do more."