35 miles from home and firmly outside of their comfort zone, a group of 11 year old boys from San Ramon FC stood together with their youth soccer coach.
Sunday November 27, 2016 would ultimately provide them with their most emotional experience of the season. A love of soccer brought them together as a team in March. On this day, there was no game to play. Instead of grass under their feet, they were standing in sneakers on the concrete sidewalks of San Francisco.
Coach Alex Uribe turned to his players and talked to them about what they would be doing that day. Nervous and excited, these boys – players on San Ramon FC’s 05B Navy team – listened intently to Coach Alex’s advice. Then together, they proceeded down the street to deliver the “blessing bags” each carried with them.
Packed with beanies, mittens, toothbrushes, toothpaste, granola bars, hand sanitizer, hand warmers, bottled water, sandwiches and chips, the boys spent 1 ½ hours delivering blessing bags to homeless men and women in the city.
“I was very excited and nervous at the same time, as all the boys were. I wasn't just sure how the kids would react to seeing the reality of other people,” Uribe said. Initially, the boys were a bit shy and nervous. He recounted this observation,
At the beginning, of course, they didn't know what to expect. You could see their body
language and how would they come with me to every person we approached. It was
amazing because they started working together as a team. The boys would make sure
that every person would be taken care of.
The 06B Navy team delivered blessing bags on December 4th. A majority of the players on these two teams volunteered to participate. However, before their sneakers hit the streets of San Francisco, Coach Alex had to ease the concerns of parents about the activity.
How It Started
The previous year, Uribe, along with his wife and young daughter, delivered care packages on his own. He knew firsthand that the experience was eye-opening, rewarding, and worthwhile.
“I have always liked to help less fortunate people and I wanted to share this experience with these boys. We have everything here (in San Ramon) and I wanted them to experience a different reality and be thankful for everything we have,“ Uribe explained.
He sent an email to the families of two of his teams and told them about his idea. He was amazed to see every family getting involved with the cause.
“This was Coach Alex’s idea and he had to assure me many times that it was a good, safe idea. I had to trust him on this, and, in the end, it turned out well,” said Sherry Muniz, a mom of two sons, each on a different team coached by Uribe.
As the team manager for both the 05B and 06B Navy teams, Muniz helped Coach Alex organize the event. On the Saturday before their trip, the boys met at San Ramon FC’s futsal facility. Their families purchased or donated the items for the care packages, which were soon called blessing bags. The items were spread out on tables for players to place into large Ziploc bags. When they were finished, each player had 5 or 6 bags to distribute.
Was It Worthwhile?
While the uncertainty of approaching the homeless raised some initial concerns, the experience proved to be rewarding for all involved. There were many questions from the boys, such as “Why are people living this way?”, “How they can have a Merry Christmas?” and “Why don’t they have food?” It was clear that the boys were thinking.
Coach Alex did his best to answer their questions, but homelessness is often a complicated problem.
“All of these people have a reason behind their situation, we don’t know what it is, but at least you guys are here giving a little of your time and a small gift with items and food for them to enjoy,” he told them.
Many of the individuals who received the bags took the time to speak to the boys. Coach Alex was grateful that the boys were focused and intent on listening to each of them. One man gave a short speech and told the boys to “follow their heart” because it never lies. Another man tried to memorize all of the boys’ names and almost did it! Yet another told the boys to stay away from drugs.
When asked if she would do it again, Muniz answered in the affirmative and said that it was a great bonding experience for the boys.
For Uribe, he shed a few tears of happiness upon seeing his players transformed by the experience. "One of my players has as a strong personality and he began to cry, just seeing the living conditions of the people on the streets. I had to put my sunglasses on and just let my tears come out too."
Coach Alex’s blessing bags exemplify our club’s mission to develop players, character and community through soccer. We applaud his initiative and his dedication and are proud of the players and their parents who participated.
Uribe plans to keep doing this and hopes that it gets bigger and bigger every time. He hopes more teams and families will get involved next year.
Written by Mike McGinley for San Ramon FC
If you would like to help with the “Blessing Bag Project” in the future, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can notify you when additional details become available. For additional facts and information on the homeless situation in San Francisco, please read the “San Francisco Homeless Count & Survey” in 2015.