Almost 10 years ago, John Vrana telephoned the athletic director of Newark East Side High School and told her he wanted to donate equipment for the school's ice hockey team.

"She said, 'Is this a prank?' " Vrana said.

Nowadays schools are thrilled when Vrana, a 51-year-old Ventnor resident, calls.

"He's on a mission to help schools that are less fortunate," Pleasantville athletic director Derrick Carrington said.

Vrana helps get sports equipment for city schools and youth teams. He helped the Pleasantville Jokers youth football team get $9,000 worth of helmets last season.

On Thursday, he delivered 50 sets of shoulder pads, practice pads, practice jerseys and game socks to the Pleasantville High School football team.

Vrana, a disabled meatcutter, worked in the equipment department for the University of Cincinnati football team. He has connections with colleges all over the country and solicited the equipment from them.

Vrana said the colleges donated the mostly new items and want to remain anonymous. Vrana works in conjunction with Atlantic County Sherriff Frank Balles and Atlantic County freeholder Frank Formica.

"It makes the kids feel good to understand that somebody is thinking about them and caring about them despite their struggles on the field," Carrington said of the donation.

In telephone conversations this week, Vrana talked about sports and why he campaigns to get schools equipment.

On why he does it: I'm a recovering alcoholic. I've been sober 21 years. I believed the only way you can pay people back is help people who are less fortunate than you. There are a lot of teenagers with very little hope. We're trying to make them feel good about themselves.

On why he chooses to donate football equipment: It's a safety issue. We want the kids in good, protective gear. That's the main reason we do football. The most equipment used in sports is in football. They learn a lot of life's lessons through football.

On what he feels like while watching teams play and practice in equipment he helped them get: I feel like a part of the process. It makes me want to do more.