Students from metro Atlanta schools and beyond poured into the Infinite Energy Forum in Duluth Thursday morning carrying cardboard boxes and bags overflowing with tennis rackets and baseball bats, double-ring binders and crayons, board games and books.
It was part of an initiative called, “Super Kids-Super Sharing,” held every year in Super Bowl host communities. So it was Atlanta’s turn. But this time, the event carried special significance because it was right here in Atlanta where the program started back in 2000 when Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl XXXIV.
As a member of the student council at Lanier High School in Gwinnett County, Taj Barnes did his part by setting up boxes, putting up fliers around his school and encouraging his classmates to give to children in their community.
Meanwhile, he made a personal contribution, something special to him — a collection of Junie B. Jones books, his favorite series as a young child. Taj, a star running back for his high school football team, seemed to embody the spirit of the event which connects sports and service.
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With Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders, the team mascot Freddie Falcon on hand, and the Collins High School Chamber Choir performing, the atmosphere in Duluth was cheerful and enthusiastic.
“I’m very excited the Super Bowl is going to be in Atlanta this year,” said Taj. “And this feels good to donate my books.”
Even before a final tally was completed, organizers estimated more than 40,000 items had been donated. Later in the day, local teachers and representatives from area schools and organizations, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, selected items for their students. The sheer volume of collected items was a testament to the growth of the program over the past couple of decades. The number of schools represented surpassed 100 and included not only schools in metro Atlanta but at least two schools making the trip with vans full of donated items from Savannah. During that first year in 2000, the project worked with three local schools, and 200 pieces of sports equipment were donated to a local Boys & Girls Club.
More than 100 schools participated in Super Kids programs with schools across metro Atlanta and as far away as Savannah participating. All of the Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Atlanta also joined the efforts. St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Hapeville arrived with 40 boxes of donated items.
Ashley Ward, admissions director, said the school made the project a point of emphasis during their annual Night of Giving event on Tuesday. Ward said during the Night of Giving, families cleaned sports equipment and sorted and organized the donations.
Rebecca Dunaway, an 8th grader at St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Hapeville, said she loved the experience of working with her classmates to help others.
“It’s given me a meaningful feeling knowing I have helped someone,” she said.
Susan and Jack Groh, a couple who both work in the NFL’s environmental program (Jack is the director of the NFL Environmental Program; his wife Susan is the associate director) started the program as a way to create an environmental program that involved kids.
“My husband came up with this idea of kids sharing,” said Susan Groh. “It’s an environmental project because we are reusing and repurposing items, but the sharing comes through. It’s really full to see all of the items — books the children have loved, sports equipment they may have used, things that children value and share with other children.”
Other NFL environmental programs include tree plantings in Atlanta, and massive recycling and composting efforts during the Super Bowl to minimize the impact from the big game. There is also a food repurposing element. Tens of thousands of pounds of unserved, prepared food from Super Bowl events will be distributed to local shelters and community kitchens.
“The ultimate goal is to leave a positive legacy in the host city,” said Susan Groh. “When we first looked into environmental projects, we looked to offset the environmental impact of the Super Bowl, and then we realized we could go way above and beyond.”
As part of a brief ceremony Thursday, Verizon made an $18,000 donation to the Ron Clark Academy. The grant will fund a peer-to-peer violence awareness program that tackles issues of bullying.