ST. PAUL, Minn. – Summer football for the Lower East St. Paul football program has been a 35-year tradition for volunteer coach Sylvester McCray.
“It’s the kids that keep me coming back," he says. "The kids are great. We even have former players that have become coaches."
However, this season, when McCray sent in around 50 helmets for a league inspection, he only received 10 back. The others were deemed unsafe and outdated.
“There was really some question on if we could dress all the kids," he says. "It’s usually around 100.”
One of the parents, Leann Larson, got wind of it and put a plea for help on Facebook for donations.
"To me, it was not because my son was signing up for camp," Larson says. "It was because someone had a need."
She recruited her friend Gidget Bailey, owner of Tin Cups in North St. Paul, to help.
"Today we received an anonymous check for $1,000," Bailey says. "Right now we are at $4,857 and it's still growing.”
In just a few days, with the help of donations from Tin Cups, the George Paitich Foundation, Dar's Double Scoop Ice Cream and a handful of others who decided to donate small amounts, they have raised more than what was needed to purchase new helmets.
“We’ve had people donate $1,000 to the last $2 in their pocket as they are walking out," Bailey says. "It’s just beautiful."
To many who helped in the cause, it was more than just helping out the team. It’s a way to help build a foundation for kids in what have been low-income neighborhoods that have seen their challenges.
“We are experiencing a lot of problems in the neighborhood with violence and it's teen violence,” says Kevin Barrett, owner of Dar's Double Scoop. “This could not go away. This football program helps keep kids off the streets, safe and out of trouble. We had to do something to help.”
The team will be purchasing the helmets they need with the help of a local sporting goods company that is selling them at cost. The team will also be able to purchase more equipment as needed with the extra money.
“I was blown away,” Coach McCray says. “I was really really happy. This means a lot to this community.”