Instead of hitting volleyballs at each other, players in the Arizona region last week packed food into backpacks to help Kitchen on the Street.
It was the brainchild of John Sharpnack, a coach in the Arizona junior volleyball scene since 2000. He’s been involved with the Kitchen on the Street (KOS) charity for six years. And he thought it would be special if the volleyball community pitched in.
“The event was better than I could ever have imagined,” Sharpnack said after the players, coaches and others from the region packed 2,000 backpacks in barely over an hour.
“To see all of these rival clubs come together on cold Saturday morning to help other children in their community and have fun doing so is heartwarming,” Sharpnack said. “You could see that these kids were proud of what they were doing, proud of the food that they collected, and I think some were humbled to know about some of the struggles of the kids and families that we are supporting.”
KOS of Arizona has been serving the community since 2007. KOS was started by Vince, Lisa and Taylor Scarpinato when they heard thousands of children received breakfast and lunch at school but were going hungry on weekends. They began a food-filled backpack program that provided shelf-stable meals and snacks assembled for food-insecure children.
“I was invited to volunteer with KOS by a good friend of mine and founder of KOS, Vince Scarpinato, in 2010,” Sharpnack said. “At the time they were hosting local food distribution events on the fourth Saturday of every month. After my first event I was hooked, I absolutely loved it.
“Over the years I became more and more involved with KOS, inviting my friends and family to events and eventually organizing my own volunteer events to include the volleyball community. After about five or six years of volunteering, I was asked to join the board of directors and continue to help Kitchen on the Street grow and accomplish our goal of helping to end childhood hunger in our community.”
Sharpnack is currently coaching with the Arizona Revolution in Phoenix. His father, Ray, got him into coaching 18 years ago and he’s recognized how close the people in the sport are.
“A couple of years back, I started having some of our teams get together for food-packing events as a form of team bonding as well as an opportunity for them to volunteer and give back to their community,” Sharpnack said. “The kids loved it, and as word got around the volleyball community, I started getting texts and phone calls from many of my friends who coach club and high school asking if their teams could volunteer.”
And so, on the last Saturday of 2018, in a small warehouse in northwest Phoenix, Sharpnack and representatives from five clubs and the Arizona Region Office staff came together to help this idea to fruition.
“I decided this year to host a multi-club event because it is important for these athletes to realized they can be rivals and competitive on the court, but Arizona volleyball is a family and I wanted to them to come together for a good cause,” Sharpnack said.
“I reached out to some of my good friends from other clubs — Storm Elite, AZ Sky, Club One, Fear VBC — and asked if they wanted to participate in an event with my team at Revolution Volleyball. Without hesitation, everyone responded with the same answer of absolutely.”
In addition, Sharpnack came up with the idea of each club hosting a food drive for single-serving applesauce or fruit cups. More than 6,000 cups were donated.
“A year ago, this was just an idea, and to immediately have the support of other clubs, coaches and the Arizona Region reps, people I am very proud to call my friends all say, ‘Absolutely, whatever you need,’ says a lot about the culture of Arizona volleyball,” Sharpnack said.
“Like it or not, we are one big family. I couldn’t be more proud of every single person involved, and I hope to make this an annual event in the future.”