Organization puts unused merchandise to use around world

Rich Stearns works and lives near Seattle but he grew up in New York state and lived 10 years in Philadelphia, so he was torn as a fan watching the Yankees and Phillies in the World Series.

He just couldn’t wait for someone — anyone — to lose.

“I just want to make sure someone loses, so others can win,” the president of World Vision said.

The leader of the humanitarian group based in Federal Way was talking over the telephone while on a train outside Philadelphia, hours before the World Series ended Nov. 4 with a Yankees’ victory in six games.

And that’s how Stearns and his organization see the Series, plus the Super Bowl, for which it also holds a licensed-merchandise agreement with the NFL: bring on the losers!

Each fall and winter for the past three years, World Vision has sent to the impoverished around the world thousands of team championship caps, jerseys and T-shirts produced before the World Series and Super Bowl and then rendered unusable for marketing in the United States when teams don’t win the title.

In recent weeks, Stearns had shipments leave for disaster-stricken Indonesia with 1,300 pieces of preprinted gear with the words “Los Angeles Angels, World Series champions” and bearing the logo of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the other loser in the league championship series.

After the World Series, seemingly unusable Phillies championship gear was processed out of World Vision’s distribution center in Pittsburgh bound for Zambia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Romania.

World Vision tracks the delivery and dissemination to ensure the countries that need them most get the gear, along with food, health and sanitation supplies, tool kits for building shelters and other basic needs.

“As hard as it is for us to believe, this might be the only piece of brand-new clothing these people have ever had in their lives,” said Stearns, the president of World Vision since 1998.

Some children across the globe are wearing XXL Arizona Cardinals shirts right now. They were made before January’s Super Bowl, meant to be worn by mammoth linemen inside a victorious locker room — until the Pittsburgh Steelers won the NFL title.

“They wear them as dresses,” Karen Kartes, media relations director for World Vision United States, said with a laugh.

The group wanted to get Phillies gear out to Indonesia, but the latest shipment had to leave hours before the Yankees won their 27th World Series.

World Vision got into this service a few years ago.

Kartes said the NFL grew tired of either watching all this unused apparel get destroyed, or of having to work with U.S. Border Patrol agents to stop counterfeit, non-licensed or unusable merchandise from losing teams in the Super Bowl from being sold in far-flung black markets or on eBay. The league and World Vision found a far more useful, and environmentally friendly, alternative.

“You talk about a ‘green’ solution,” Kartes said.

Baseball joined by donating its gear soon after. Kartes said World Vision is in talks with the National Hockey League to establish the same program.

She said the NBA hasn’t been approached, but that her organization would welcome a partnership with basketball, too.

“Most people who receive these jerseys and T-shirts would not know who the Yankees and the Phillies are,” Stearns said. “They are just looking at these as new clothes.”