WEDDINGTON – Kids from the Wesley Chapel-Weddington Athletic Association recently used their love of the game to make a difference.
More than 600 WCWAA soccer players ages 8 to 12 showed up at Weddington’s Optimist Park on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 24 and 25, for the fifth annual American Red Cross Fall Warmup – a series of games that fuse friendly competition with giving back.
“There’s a reason we call it a ‘warmup.’ It’s not a tournament,” said Sheila Crunkleton, community chapter executive for the American Red Cross. “It’s a way for coaches to come out and see what (players) can do. It’s a little lower stress, where people can see what each team has and what changes they need to make. It’s a good format.”
Factoring in the players, coaches and their families, about 2,500 showed up for the event in two days.
“To be in front of that many people in (one) weekend, that’s just a wonderful opportunity,” Crunkleton said.
More than 50 teams played a series of 12 games, raising a total of about $10,000 for the Red Cross, Crunkleton said. The Fall Warmup has raised about $45,000 for the organization in five years, she said.
“On average, it takes about $1,000 … to support a family when they have a house fire, by the time you take care of hotel (costs), clothing, food and helping them into a new place with the first month’s rent,” Crunkleton said.
“You can tell how many families (the Fall Warmup) has helped over the years.”
The majority of the funds raised support local disaster relief efforts including volunteer training, as well as caring for families impacted by hurricanes, fires, tornadoes and floods, Crunkleton said. Volunteer training is especially important, she said, because volunteers need to be prepared to handle disaster relief both locally and nationally, as teams are often sent to areas where a major disaster has occurred.
“We’re always in the process of training and preparing,” Crunkleton said. “We have to be prepared before a major disaster happens. Disasters can just as easily happen in our community.”
Over the past year, local volunteers have been dispatched to areas impacted by Hurricane Isaac, Hurricane Sandy and the tornadoes that hit the Midwest in the spring, Crunkleton said. But they’ve also responded to local disasters, such as the windstorm that hit Stanley County earlier this summer.
The Red Cross’s Union County chapter is responsible for supporting families in Union and Anson counties. Last year, the chapter helped 56 families between the two counties, Crunkleton said.
“Our neighbors in Anson County sometimes need assistance even more so than Union,” she said.
The most common local disaster relief efforts involve house fires, Crunkleton said. Members of volunteer action teams are on call to respond to scenes – even if it’s in the middle of the night – to help provide food, clothing and shelter.
Red Cross volunteers also provide counseling for families facing a disaster, as well as support for firefighters and first responders on the scene.
“They take care of the firefighters and first responders,” Crunkleton said. “If it’s a big fire and they know they’re going to be on the scene for a while, (our volunteers) come out and support them with food, drinks and snacks,” which some of the funds from the Fall Warmup will help cover.
The Red Cross has an ongoing need for volunteers, Crunkleton said. The most common areas of need include volunteer action teams – people who remain on call, day or night – and bilingual individuals.
“It’s our goal to have at least one bilingual person on each disaster action team,” Crunkleton said. But the Red Cross will gladly accept volunteers in all areas, she added. “Even if people just hand out info into the community, we want our community to be prepared. We need our community to be prepared.”
Crunkleton hopes the Fall Warmup will have a lasting impact on the children who participated and instill in them a desire to continue giving back to the community.
“It warms my heart to see people who want to support the Red Cross, and to see youth involved in giving back at such a young age is a great thing,” she said. “Usually, young people involved in philanthropy continue that into adulthood, and that does absolutely warm your heart.”
Find more information about the American Red Cross’s Union County Chapter at www.redcross.org/nc/Monroe.