A request was made for anyone coming to the holiday game to bring new or gently used articles of clothing to benefit the Elisha Project, a non-profit organization with a mission to provide practical needs for families in the community.
Representatives from the two football programs had gathered at the Pawtucket-based warehouse utilized by the Elisha Project. An estimated 400-500 pounds of donated clothes were dropped off, an impressive haul noted George Ortiz, executive director/co-founder of the Elisha Project.
The endeavor was titled “Gridiron Giveback” and hailed as an opportunity to help those in need. For two schools that, distance-wise, are separated by a Hail Mary pass, what makes this particular partnership so heartwarming is that high school kids took the initiative and ran with it. Yes, some adults played a hand in making sure everything ran smoothly, yet this was about teenagers and how it dawned on them that something for the greater good was at stake – more than touchdowns and fumble recoveries and which team had more points on the scoreboard by game’s end.
None of this would have been possible had the efforts not been spearheaded by members of their respective programs. Moses Brown sophomore Trey McAuliffe and St. Raphael senior Miles DeMacedo served as de facto captains, each one finding themselves in the position of creating awareness in the pursuit of gathering coats for the needy. They were the ones who were champions of a cause that left Ortiz smiling when delivering a synopsis of the inaugural coat drive featuring involvement from the Quakers and Saints.
“Everyone is going to benefit,” said Ortiz. “In the long term, it’s about these kids having the spirit of giving back. It’s even more significant that these donations are coming from young people. They did it on their own without us.”
The true genesis of how “Gridiron Giveback” got off the ground involved McAuliffe wishing to embark on a community service project. Per the suggestion of Carlos Tobon, an R.I. State Representative whose territory includes Pawtucket, the decree was to do something to benefit the Elisha Project with Moses Brown involving St. Raphael.
Upon the two football head coaches speaking – St. Raphael’s Mike Sassi and Moses Brown’s Vin Ucci – McAuliffe took the proverbial handoff and exploded through the hole created by the offensive line. The first order of business was to reach out to the representative from the St. Raphael football team. Before McAuliffe knew it, he was strategizing with someone on the opposing team – in this case, DeMacedo.
“It was important to have both sides involved,” said McAuliffe.
Noted DeMacedo, “I was really excited to be a part of it.”
McAuliffe and DeMacedo couldn’t have been more opposite in the manner they took charge. At St. Raphael, the message was spread through flyers strategically displayed throughout the school. With Moses Brown, McAuliffe reminded his teammates through their group chat with one parent of a football player using Facebook to bring additional attention to the coat drive.
“When you look at it, the football part is only one small part. Just the fact that two schools got together is absolutely awesome,” said Ucci.
“It shows the relationship the schools have developed throughout the years,” said Sassi, referring to a Thanksgiving series that dates back to 2012.
St. Raphael was only a few days removed from losing the RIIL Division II Super Bowl to Classical when the page required turning to the season finale that doubled as the Thanksgiving contest. In one respect, the coat drive served as the perfect means to snap everyone’s attention back into focus.
“You feel terrible that you lost the game, but you’re also trying to show them that there are more important things in life … people out there who are freezing and hungry,” said Sassi. “It put everything in perspective for the kids.”
For one parent stationed at the drop-off table placed outside the main gate at Pariseau Field, it was encouraging to see folks wearing St. Raphael’s school colors dovetailing nicely with the coat givers with a rooting interest in Moses Brown. Many of the coats featured price tags on them, a sign that people refrained from digging into the back of closets with the hope of finding something to donate.
“It really worked out well,” said McAuliffe, who along with DeMacedo are shining examples of how you’re never too young to comprehend how sports can serve as a shining example to help better the lives of those who may not have the same means as others.
“We always talk about creating productive and contributing members of society. When these opportunities present themselves and when youngsters take the initiative … that’s the most important thing,” said Tobon. “Usually, it’s the adults trying to get the kids to do things. In this day and age where the game has taken on so much precedent, for them to go back to the basics and do something like this shows that they’re looking out beyond themselves. That’s huge.”
And for a fall/winter update on the RIIL, Stone Freeman interviewed RIIL Executive Director Mike Lunney…