Charity donates Arizona gear to families in need

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While the Super Steelers are flying high after yesterday's victory parade, preprinted Cardinals "championship" T-shirts will be flying south for the winter, providing clothing for poor families in El Salvador, by way of a charitable distribution center in Aleppo.

Before the Super Bowl and conference championship games, the NFL and its official apparel licensees print up hundreds of shirts and caps to be distributed to the players and coaches on the winning team's sideline and thousands more that eventually will be sold in stores and online. The winners -- in this case, the Steelers -- get to celebrate in their new gear.

But the losers are left wearing their street clothes after the game. World Vision, a Christian relief organization, collects the losers' items and redirects them to impoverished families.

World Vision's U.S. headquarters is in Seattle, but the warehouse where it accepts and repackages donated surplus clothing is in Aleppo.

This year, like last year, the question of which shirts would be sent south was in doubt until the final moments. But Santonio Holmes' last-minute touchdown grab ensured not only a sixth Lombardi Trophy for the Steelers, but also that the men, women and children of Central America will be wearing shirts that wrongly announce the Arizona Cardinals as the 2009 Super Bowl champions.

The same fate awaits the plumage plucked from those other birds, the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles. Because they lost their conference title games, their shirts are being collected by World Vision before they can be collected by, say, Baltimore souvenir hunters. These shirts may instead end up in Africa.

The people receiving the shirts, of course, don't really care that their new clothes aren't historically accurate.

"We're working in pretty remote areas, no electricity and no water," said Jeff Fields, a lifelong Steelers fan and World Vision's senior director for corporate relations. "There will be some that understand" the true outcome of the Super Bowl, but the majority won't, he said.

Today, World Vision's local warehouse is scheduled to receive its first shipment from Tampa, Fla. -- the 280 or so cap-and-shirt combos. In the weeks and months to come, large sporting goods retailers will donate the rest of their Cardinals stock, tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in all.

The retailers' donations can be written off for tax purposes.

Last year, World Vision distributed about $2 million worth of "19-0" New England Patriots championship T-shirts in Nicaragua, Romania and elsewhere. This year, the total value of the donated goods will be down.

"This year is really a tough one," Fields said. Arizona is "a small market, no fan base," meaning fewer articles of apparel were preprinted.

Also, it's a warm-weather city. Had the Steelers lost, not only would thousands of T-shirts and caps been donated, but also lots of sweatshirts and cold-weather stocking caps.

World Vision has been collecting unusable, unsalable Super Bowl merchandise since 1992. It does the same after the World Series and other sports championships.

Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette or 412-263-2625.


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