When the NSCAA convention comes to Philadelphia for five days in January, Philadelphia will be the center of attention for the US soccer community.
Philadelphia Union fans will naturally be focused on the eight picks the team will have at the MLS SuperDraft that will be taking place during the convention on Thursday, January 16. And as they did at the 2010 and 2011 editions of the draft in Philadelphia and in Baltimore, the Sons of Ben will be leading the Union faithful in their support of the team. A pre-SuperDraft party will begin the day at the Field House in the Reading Terminal and the Sons Of Ben have also organized a post-draft party with the Union to wrap the big day. If that wasn’t enough, the Sons of Ben have organized the Supporters Summit that will be taking place during the convention on Jan. 17-18.
But that’s not all.
On Saturday, Jan. 18, the Sons of Ben will also be leading the way for local fans to celebrate while also providing the opportunity to give back to the community at the annual Help Kick Hunger charity event. The event is in support of Chester’s Bernadine Center and will also be taking place at The Field House.
“This is like Homecoming Weekend for the soccer community in Philly,” Sons of Ben Event Coordinator Ami Oristaglio said. “You’ve got ‘the big game,’ which is the draft. You have the Supporters Summit, which is the like the bonfire, and you’ve got a number of parties afterwards. It’s gonna be a huge weekend.”
And while Oristaglio and her colleagues want everyone to have a good time, they are equally serious in their commitment to helping those in need in Chester.
“It’s one of those things that’s kind of two-sided,” said Oristaglio, who has been organizing the charity event with along with SoB membership director Tina Eunson, philanthropy director Bill Gusler, and vice president Lorenzo Rivera. “You have the aspect of the event itself, and how much you want people to participate and have a great time, and get the Sons of Ben together in the offseason. But then you have reasoning behind it and knowing how desperate a situation some people are in now.”
The issues associated with an already struggling economy are magnified in Chester, which has never recovered from the the exodus of industrial jobs that once employed so many of its citizens.
“You’ve got federal programs that have expired that cut food stamp benefits, and then you have the economy still being down,” Oristaglio explained. “And the economy of Chester, which is where we’re focusing on, is even more desperate than what you see in [Philly]. You can’t help but want to help.”
All of that means the Bernadine Center, which typically serves around 500 people a month, can expect to see as much as a 20 percent increase in demand for the services it provides in the coming months.
Recognizing this increased need, the Sons of Ben have included a food drive along with the fundraising component of this year’s Help Kick Hunger event. “Now you can actually bring canned goods to be able to get raffle tickets in exchange so that we can help keep those pantry shelves open,” Oristaglio said.
Oristaglio stressed that one doesn’t have to be a Sons of Ben member to attend the event. “I want everyone and their mother, and their grandmother, and their great-grandmother if she’s around, to come out to this. There’s absolutely no lines drawn, and that’s something that the Sons of Ben really hold up in any event that we do.”
In fact, the ultimate success of the event depends on support from both inside and outside the Philly soccer scene. With Eunson and Gunsler leading the solicitation of donations efforts, auction and raffle items have been donated by, among others, the Phillies and the Flyers, as well as by local museums and theaters. From within the Philly soccer scene, the American Outlaws and Media FC have donated items. And in addition to a $2000 pledge, the Union have donated a suite for a game as a prize that also includes the opportunity for young fans to experience being ball kids and player escorts.
Oristaglio said the support from the Union begins with club CEO Nick Sakiewicz. “When we contacted the front office and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this again, we’re doing this during SuperDraft weekend,’ they were a hundred percent on board,” Oristaglio said.
Several Union players will be at the event, which will be emceed by 6abc’s David Murphy, and have also donated their time in the form of prizes in which the winner gets to spend time the player. “That’s huge,” said Oristaglio. “That’s their personal time, that’s their effort that they’re giving toward this.
“We’re really happy and honored to have such a good relationship with all of them, from the players to the front office.”
Pre- and post-draft parties. The SuperDraft itself. The Supporters Summit and Help Kick Hunger. That’s a big weekend.
Having a good time while giving back. That’s the Sons of Ben.
As Oristaglio said with a laugh, “You may as well come downtown, get a hotel room, and plan on leaving on Sunday.”
Click here to purchase tickets to the Help Kick Hunger charity event. You’ll save $5 off the $45 ticket price if you purchase your ticket by Dec.31. After Jan. 11, tickets will only be available at the door and will cost $50. The event begins at 7 pm and you’ll get two drink tickets and small bites with the cost of admission.