The Galloway Township-based Atlantic United U12 Asteroids are ready to meet any challenge, whether it's toppling an opposing soccer team or helping to alleviate the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy.
While their 8-1 record this season as of Nov. 12 is something to be proud of, the more than $1,700 they raised recently for the Southern Branch of the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, might just be their biggest accomplishment of the year.
Head coach Jeff Ropiecki said he was proud of his team for taking the initiative to give back to the community.
"It was heartwarming," Ropiecki said. "I'm really proud, both as a coach and as a parent, that they would think about other people in light of the tragedy like that.
On Oct. 28, the girls stood outside ShopRite of Absecon from 9 a.m. until about 7 p.m. asking the community for donations. They had initially planned the coin drop to cover team expenses, but the parents and kids decided they'd rather use it as an opportunity to help those hurt by Hurricane Sandy.
To attract donors, the girls developed a chant, saying in unison, "We are collecting money for the victims of Sandy, we like candy, word!"
Some members of the community gave a few pennies. Others threw in $5 or $20 bills, and one even wrote a check worth $100 on the spot. All told, the girls collected $1,749.74, which they have asked to be used for hurricane relief.
Nina Ropiecki, the coach's daughter, said she enjoyed participating both because she could spend time with her teammates and because it helped the community.
"(It will help) to buy food for people who don't have a house right now, or who are in need, people who need help with some things," Nina said. "We were just hanging out and having a good time, doing this and helping a good cause."
The team presented the food bank with a check for the funds raised on Nov. 12, after which they were taken on a tour of the food bank's facility at 6735 Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township.
Margie Barham, executive director of the Southern Branch, accepted the check on the food bank's behalf, saying she was amazed by the quantity of cash the girls raised.
"It's very impressive," Barham said. 'I don't know what to say, it's just great, it's just great. I don't know what else to say."
Cash donations are important to the food bank because they help cover the costs of distributing the tons of food in their warehouse. For every dollar donated, Barham said, the food bank can distribute about $10 worth of food.
During the tour, Ropiecki said he was proud of the girls for their accomplishment.
While their legs get them far on the soccer field, he said, the lessons learned by efforts like these will stick with them through their lives.
"It's about more than just sports and winning," Ropiecki said. "It's about fairness, it's about character, and these guys really exhibit a lot of character."
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