Rita Philips was checking her email Friday night, when she found a message in her inbox that made her cry.
Philips, 54, a Gainesville resident, heard from Jake Bramer, an independent missionary in Rwanda. Bramer sent her photos of an orphanage’s soccer team decked out in royal purple Gainesville High School uniforms she donated to them in 2014.
“Tears just welled up in my eyes. It made my heart so happy,” Philips said. “I just couldn’t believe it because I had not thought about that in years.”
Philips, who is a paralegal and mother of a former Gainesville High School student and soccer player, was awestruck to see pictures of the Hurricanes For Jesus team still proudly wearing the jerseys. She posted the photos and story on Facebook on Friday and received more than 1,000 likes and comments.
People showed interest in donating money to the team’s orphanage and replacing the now 8-year-old uniforms, which had been used for four years by the team in Rwanda and another four by the GHS students. Philips made a GoFundMe on Tuesday, which has raised more than $200 in one day.
The uniforms were in good condition when the GHS Hurricanes ordered new uniforms in January 2014. Philips was a booster for the GHS team and decided to donate the used uniforms instead of tossing them out. She washed and packed up 26 jerseys, 18 shorts and 26 pairs of socks into a box as a donation to Peace Passers, a nonprofit based in Charlotte, North Carolina, that connects owners of new or used soccer equipment to communities in need.
Candace Murray, the group’s co-founder and director, matched Philips with Bramer, a missionary and Tennessee state trooper who requested men’s jerseys earlier that month for Daniel’s House, an orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda.
Murray, who played soccer at Buchholz High School in her hometown of Gainesville, was inspired to see support of the Hurricanes of Rwanda.
“In its purest form, the whole reason Peace Passers was founded was to spread the joy of the game, and you can see the happiness in those players and the pride that they have,” she said.
Bramer has visited Daniel’s House, which cares for about 200 infants and minors, every February for the past seven years. He brought the uniforms in duffel bags to the orphanage.
Although the team members were excited to wear their new uniforms, they did not know what hurricanes are, Bramer said. After explaining the team name, the boys fell in love with the uniforms even more. The Hurricanes of Rwanda love their team name and wash their uniforms by hand after every game, Bramer said.
“I told them that hurricanes were a strong storm, and they really liked the sound of that,” he said. “I told them that the purple was for royalty and that they were children of God, and they really liked that too.”