Englewood businessman Sal Mineo decided to put bike helmets and baseball equipment that were gathering dust in his garage to good use, so he donated them to Casa Unida Foundation for delivery to children in northern Nicaragua.
Casa Unida Foundation is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization based in Lakewood that does humanitarian projects in Nicaragua, including helping schoolchildren with donations of sports equipment and laptop computers.
Mineo, a member of the family that owns Rico's Pizzeria, said when he learned what the foundation was doing with kids he wanted to help.
“I have always done all I could to help kids with equipment because we didn't have this stuff when I was growing up. I mean when Englewood had the kids' baseball program, Rico's always sponsored teams,” he said. “I was the youngest of 15 so I didn't have a lot of things like baseballs and equipment, so we just wanted to help kids any way we could.”
When representatives of the foundation told Mineo about the humanitarian work they were doing in Northern Nicaragua, particularly the work with kids, he said he wanted to help. He donated five bike helmets plus a bucket of baseballs, a bat, a glove and a dozen new baseballs.
“Those things were just sitting in my garage,” Mineo said. “I am glad I found a way to get them to kids who can use them.”
Foundation members spent the last two weeks of February in the villages in Northern Nicaragua. When they returned, they gave Mineo pictures of the children who received his donations.
“Look at the smiles on the faces of the children in these pictures,” he said. “Seeing their smiles warms my heart.”
Bob Moore, Casa Unida Foundation president, told Mineo that bicycles are a major means of transportation in Nicaragua for adults and for children.
“We were in the village of San Isidro, and you see some bike riders wearing helmets in big cities, but not in villages like San Isidro, even though the kids ride their bikes along busy highways and along dirt roads,” Moore said. “We went to a school in the village and gave out the helmets and the kids needed our help to put them on.”
He said when he explained to children that the helmets are for safety, to protect their heads in case of a crash, many other kids asked if there were helmets for them.
“I told them not this time,” he said.
The baseball equipment Mineo donated was added to the other equipment gathered by the foundation, which was donated to a high school in the city of Esteli.
Moore said baseball is challenging soccer as Nicaragua's No. 1 sport, but schools get no money for sports equipment.
“In Northern Nicaragua the average wage is about $3 a day, so most families don't have the money to buy baseball equipment for their children,” he said. “The kids still want to play baseball, so they make balls out of rolled-up socks and use sticks for bats.”
He said the foundation accepts donations of gently used equipment plus financial donations to buy equipment for the schools.
The foundation has provided equipment to nine schools and hopes to equip one or two more schools during the scheduled trip in July. The goal for the July trip is to provide 10 right-handed gloves, two left-handed gloves, three batting helmets, three aluminum bats, catcher equipment, a dozen new baseballs and a dozen used baseballs.