It was about 45 minutes before the coin flip for the CHSFL game between St. John the Baptist and host Chaminade last Sunday. On one side of Mineola’s Saville Road, the Cougars and Flyers ran drills and warmed up for the game inside Gold Star Stadium. On the other, in the parking lot, stood a tent where people gathered.
In other years, it might have been a pregame gathering for fans with food and refreshments. Not this year, with fan attendance suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, beneath those four posts, supplies were being collected for care packages bound for Americans deployed in Afghanistan.
The collection is part of "Sacks for Soldiers,’’ an effort started by twin brothers Matthew and Thomas Steuber. The juniors play football for Chaminade. They started sending care packages in June and now send between two and 10 every few weeks. Each one provides sporting goods, snacks, socks, toiletries, batteries and other tastes of home for about 50 of the deployed.
"It’s been going great," said Thomas Steuber, a quarterback. "We send them things so they can enjoy the things they had at home. It’s kind of taken off."
Matthew Steuber, a linebacker, aspires to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and has a dream of becoming a naval aviator. He reads voraciously about those serving and was inspired after learning about life on overseas bases.
"When I was researching what military life is like, I realized it’s not luxurious on base and I really wanted to give some of these soldiers . . . some taste of what normal life is like," he said. "We just want to make their days there a little bit better."
The twins not only do outreach for donations through social media and the organization’s website, sacksforsoldiers.com, but have enlisted the help of the school, the Massapequa Kiwanis club and the National Charity League of Garden City.
Matthew Steuber said the response has been more than they anticipated and that they have applied — with the help of their mother, Sandy — to make it a non-profit.
"It was his inspiration, but when he came up with it, we both ran with the idea," said Thomas Steuber, who hopes to be accepted to attend Notre Dame.
Chaminade coach Kevin Dolan pointed to the name above the stadium and explained that Gold Star Stadium is part of "honoring our alumni who served and gave their lives in the military." He added, "What they have undertaken is in keeping with the traditions of our school."
"Our connection with those who have served runs strong," Chaminade president Brother Thomas Cleary said.
Dolan said "Sacks for Soldiers’’ is just one more way that the Steubers have become standout students. Both have not only distinguished themselves in the classroom but have been charged with giving tours of the school to donors and prospective students and their families.
"We have a lot of incredible students here, but these two are special," Dolan said. "They have really been examples with this charity work."
They juggle a lot with school and athletics, but Thomas Steuber said, "This is something we can always find time for because it’s so worthwhile."
While they know they are doing the enlisted a considerable service, the letters of thanks they get are the most rewarding and memorable things that have come from it.
"Our [donations] end up with the chaplains at different regiments and those chaplains are so grateful for all of the goods that we send," Matthew Steuber said. "They write to us and talk about how the soldiers are able to enjoy them and also give them out to some of the local children. That really means a lot and it really says something about the integrity of our soldiers.
"It makes us really want to keep sending the packages."
"The mail we get says they are grateful about what we’re doing and they personally love getting the boxes," Thomas Steuber said. "It makes me feel good knowing that they are enjoying the packages and giving back to others."