MAHOPAC, N.Y. - When you play together for over five years like the boys of the Mahopac Soccer U12 team “Mayhem,” you inevitably build a bond. And for the Mayhem players, this bond isn’t just on the field.
The families of this middle school-aged travel team that plays in the Westchester Youth Soccer League are also committed to exposing their players to ways of collectively helping others.
“It’s important for us to teach the boys about giving back to the community,” said Liz Pinto, mother of two of the players and coordinator of the team’s charitable initiatives.
The team has come together in the past with charitable acts ranging from providing Christmas presents for a single mother with four teenagers to wearing purple socks at a soccer tournament to help raise funds for Relay for Life.
This is also how a Buddy Bench, built from repurposed plastic caps, made its way to Austin Road Elementary School, where Pinto’s children, along with several other teammates, attend. A Buddy Bench is a seating area in a school playground where children who are lonely or bullied can go to find friends. If a student spots another child on the bench, the intention is for that student to go join the child in need of comfort.
Last spring, the team sought to collect more than 200 pounds of plastic caps. This is the required amount that Green Tree Plastics, located in Indiana, needs to build a bench crafted from 100 percent recycled plastic.
Fortunately, word spreads fast in Mahopac and people from all over the community were donating plastic caps. Patricia Marangiello, customer service manager at the ACME in Mahopac facilitated countless plastic caps donated by customers.
“I put up a sign at the store and customers were immediately supportive,” Marangiello said. “Some customers are still coming up to me with baggies of plastic caps. It’s nice to see everyone want to help out.”
Rainey Cuomo was another significant source of the plastic caps. Along with her husband, Jerry, she rallied her fellow seniors from the Carmel Friendship Center and her neighbors in their apartment complex. One parent, who is a member of the FDNY, received an outpouring of support from people donating their plastic caps at his station in Manhattan. Pinto’s brother chipped in too by helping to bring in a significant donation of plastic caps from Bryant Pond Laundry & Dry Cleaners.
By the first week of August, Mayhem reached its goal of well over 200 pounds of plastic caps (about the size of a Mini Cooper car) that was sorted and packed for delivery. Tom Pinto, Linda’s husband, and James Dannolfo, who has a fifth-grade daughter in Austin Road, loaded the mass quantity of plastic into Pinto’s pickup for the 920-mile trip to Evansville, Ind. They ended up doubling their load by generously delivering an additional 200-plus pounds of plastic caps from an elementary school in Albany that did not have the resources to make the delivery.
After the drive of roughly 15 hours, Pinto and Dannolfo arrived at Green Tree Plastics and unloaded the plastic caps. In return, they were provided with two pristine blue benches, one for each school. Green Tree Plastics reduces materials that are otherwise sent to landfills by producing durable, eco-friendly and longest-lasting plastic lumber products such as benches and tables. The organization also works with community groups all over the country with its “Bench for Caps” program.
“The benches are high-quality and sustainable. Even the dyes used to color the lumber are made from non-hazardous chemicals,” Pinto said.
Earlier this week, Austin Road Principal Jim Gardineer hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the generous act of bringing the Buddy Bench to the school playground. The Mayhem families, coaches Chris Provenzano, Freddie Sanchez and Bobby Keen, along with Mr. and Mrs. Marangiello, Mr. and Mrs. Cuomo, Assistant Principal Bryan Gilligan, Superintendent Anthony DiCarlo and Assistant Superintendents Deborah Legato and Michael Tromblee, took part in the celebration.
The Buddy Bench’s arrival had impeccable timing, as it was also National Bullying Prevention Month. According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children, this is a nationwide campaign that encourages schools, communities, parents and children to work together to stop bullying and cyberbullying.
“We are grateful to Mahopac Soccer’s Mayhem team and its families,” Gardineer said. “We are also so appreciative of Mr. Pinto and Mr. Dannolfo who drove over 1,800 miles for the bench. The story of how this buddy bench came to Austin Road makes it all the more special.”
Laura Lee Holmbo is the communications consultant for the Mahopac Central School District.