When Aidan Houston and Christian Passos asked Aidan’s father last summer whether he would help them start a soccer team, they had a simple goal: more time to play with their buddies.
Ian Houston agreed to coach the team but challenged the boys to use soccer as a way to give something back to the community.
El Fuego, an under-19 recreational team in Prince William Soccer’s Suburban Friendship League, was born. September, when the team started its season, was Hunger Action Month, so the players decided to raise awareness and money to combat hunger in Prince William County.
“At the end of the day, soccer isn’t as important as what’s going on in our local community,” said Passos, 18, a senior at Woodbridge High School. “There are issues like hunger and starvation that hundreds or [even] thousands of people are dealing with every day. Soccer was just a fun way to approach this initiative.”
The team, 18 boys ages 14 to 18 from Woodbridge and Freedom high schools, raised $3,250 for the ACTS food pantry in Dumfries, which they presented to the organization’s executive director, Frances Harris, last week. Fundraising efforts included selling burritos, drinks, doughnuts and soccer balls at the Sept. 29 game, Ian Houston said. Team members also solicited donations from neighbors, friends and businesses via word of mouth and social media. The boys spoke at a meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in September to raise awareness.
“We were totally overwhelmed,” said Aidan Houston, 17, a junior at Woodbridge High. “We weren’t sure at all how much we were going to raise. . . . We were really happy with how big it became.”
The pantry distributes about 70,000 pounds of food each month, Harris said, helping to feed 30 to 50 families from the eastern part of the county each day. Monetary donations help the pantry during leaner months when there are fewer food drives and allow it to buy in bulk and save.
Harris said the ACTS pantry also welcomes food donations. The demand in the county, which spiked during the recession, has not decreased in recent months.
“We always need the food,” Harris said. “There’s just no time when we can say okay, that’s enough. That never happens.”
After snapping a few photos with Harris, the boys had a chance to explore the pantry. As they wandered among the shelves filled with canned goods and boxes of cereal, volunteers periodically ducked in and announced “family of five” or “family of one” so others could pack bags of food to send home.
“We live in Prince William County, and there are a lot of lessons that come from living here,” Ian Houston said. “There truly are people who suffer, and Prince William County has some really big challenges when it comes to hunger and poverty. A greater awareness about that is something I hope [the players] are taking away from this.”
Houston’s message registered with Passos.
“It’s pretty amazing seeing all that’s going on, all the effort that these volunteers are going through and knowing that our contribution, no matter how little or how much it may be, will have an impact on many families,” he said.