Every second Wednesday, Sky Blue FC defensive player Sabrina Flores and at least eight of her teammates register for a Zoom call. They don’t meet to talk about their 2021 season starting next month or football at all. Instead, between training and their routine as professional athletes, they discuss what they can do outside of the field to help those in need.
Flores and her teammates form Sky Blue’s newly formed Player Community Outreach Committee, a group of nine Whobrainstormers, as Team Backr can give. Imani Dorsey’s brainchild, the committee lit a fire on several players on the women’s professional soccer team who play their games at the Red Bull Arena in Harrison.
“I thought that we … could have a more organized way to encourage and organize efforts to give back to the community,” Flores said in a recent interview. “We already have a lot of cool projects” in the works.
The committee’s efforts bore fruit earlier this month.
For hours on a cold Newark Thursday, Sky Blue FC players, staff and some of their biggest fans sorted and delivered 2,100 bags of healthy groceries to dozens of people in need across the city.
Players volunteered for the COVID-19 Emergency Food Distribution Effort, a program launched by Caresparc Consulting at the start of the COVID pandemic. Efforts have been helping to feed food insecure families in Newark for a year and will continue to do so for months to come.
Keith DaCosta, CEO of Caresparc, said Sky Blue will be the first professional team to join their efforts – but he hopes they won’t be the last.
“It shows that they are not just a team. It shows that they are invested in what is happening in the communities and citizens of this city of Newark and the other communities where they play and serve, ”DaCosta said. “It was good to have them – and they are so fit and healthy too, their condition was great and we actually got to do it in record time.”
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To accommodate the volunteers, organizers – including Table to Table and Greater Newark Conservancy – created a bubble-like atmosphere for players to adhere to the strict COVID-19 protocols that the National Women’s Soccer League competes in Sky Blue to be enforced.
Together, in about three hours, the group sorted 36,000 pounds of groceries before delivering the free food to dozens of families across town.
“It was kind of a cup of tea from our team,” said Flores. “We get there. You tell us what our goals and jobs are, and then we just work it out and get to work.”
Over the past year, despite a modified season of COVID-19 logs and social distancing, players have maintained close relationships with their fan base – particularly members of Cloud 9, their official support group. The team has hosted virtual watch parties and check-ins.
It was during one of those check-ins with Alyse LaHue, general manager of Sky Blue FC, that some Cloud 9 members first heard about the team’s planned efforts in Newark – and also volunteered.
Rahul Kapur, a Cloud 9 member who volunteered for the team, said the experience is a prime example of why he’s such a huge supporter of the club.
51-year-old Kapur has been a football fan all his life. He now has a 9 year old daughter, Abby, who plays football competitively. Together they followed the women’s national team, which led them to follow the NWSL. The East Brunswick native, who now lives in Manhattan, became a Sky Blue fan after attending a game in September 2019.
The family had bought season tickets for 2020, but the pandemic has thwarted those plans. When Kapur saw the chance to help the team, he and his daughter jumped.
“It’s such an important thing and something I know that my daughter felt so good about it, aside from the fact that she met some of her idols and stars,” said Kapur.
“It’s funny how you get there and she’s a little star, and if you work there for 3 or 4 hours – you know, everyone’s just a normal person and [Abby’s] I just talk to everyone and everyone is working to get a job done, ”he said.
Interactions like this are why Flores, one of Sky Blue’s defensive players, wanted to join the New Jersey team in the first place. As a native of Livingston, she said she always wanted to play and represent her home state.
It was her connections in New Jersey that led to the committee’s first project: she had volunteered for the Newark program. And they have other plans in the works, some of which include volunteering for the elderly, helping with Black Lives Matter, or helping schools in underserved areas of Newark.
“I feel rooted in the community I am in and I just want to give something back and help or inspire or do all I can,” said Flores, “to make the people around me better.”
Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to the latest news, subscribe or activate your digital account today.