Anjie Balla, a Del Mar resident, was researching colleges online when she came across a Web site for the First Presbyterian Church in Galveston, Texas.
She was so moved by descriptions of the damage wreaked by Hurricane Ike in September, she said she wondered how she could help.
"These people really, really need help," Balla said. "They have lost everything and no one seems to care."
A varsity tennis and lacrosse player at Santa Fe Christian School, Balla decided to donate an extra tennis racket that might help a student athlete be able to practice again.
"I know for me, I would be so excited getting back to a normal routine," Balla said.
What started with one tennis racket snowballed into a community-wide effort.
As the president of the Varsity Letterman's Club, Balla encouraged her fellow athletes to donate new or gently used sports equipment, or gift cards to K-Mart and Wal-Mart.
"We already had donations at tennis practice the next day," she said.
Balla made a few more announcements at school, and word spread so fast that basketballs, volleyballs, baseballs, tennis rackets, even golf clubs, in-line skates and surf boards have filled a sizable storage unit at Self Storage in Solana Beach.
Support for Balla's idea has spread beyond the school. Self Storage donated shipping boxes and a unit to temporarily house donations, and FedEx will transport the items for free.
Solana Beach Presbyterian Church will also collect donations from its congregation. The church launched a massive volunteer effort to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Reverend Tom Theriault. But Hurricane Ike slipped under the radar amidst other headlines.
That is, until Balla approached him to participate in her sports equipment drive.
Led by teenager
"I was taken with Anjie's sensitivity and determination," Theriault said. "Now, a teenager is leading us."
He admitted at first he wasn't sure how baseballs could make a difference. But after listening to Balla explain how important sports can be for regaining a sense of normalcy, or a mental escape from the troubles at hand, "I realized sometimes it is the little, odd things that give people the heart help they need," he said.
The donations will be sent to the First Presbyterian Church in Galveston to distribute. Balla said she e-mailed Reverend David Green in Galveston to let him know of her plan, and the pastor called to thank her, so touched by the generosity coming from a city he had never heard of.
"I hope many people will realize they can made a difference," Balla said. "Sending one thing will make someone so happy."
Donations can be dropped off in front of the Santa Fe Christian gymnasium, at 838 Academy Drive, on Friday, Oct. 17 before school starts at 7:50 a.m. Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, located at 120 Stevens Avenue, will collect items on Sunday, Oct. 19.
The Balla family will also accept donations. Call them at (858) 755-4019.