For the kids at Seattle’s Kimball Elementary School, Friday came with something special: free Seahawks jerseys, courtesy of an online fundraising drive by one of the school’s newest teachers.
Kevin Zelko, a 38-year-old special-education teacher, said the idea for the fundraiser was born after he made more tips than he expected as a part-time beer vendor at the Seahawks’ playoff game against the New Orleans Saints earlier this month.
He said Fridays are spirit days at Kimball, where students can wear the school colors or their favorite team jersey. Because of the playoffs season, many have worn Seahawks jerseys.
Zelko, a teacher at the Beacon Hill school since September, wanted to make sure even children who couldn’t afford a jersey had one.
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“I just wanted to be inclusive and help out all the kids to be able to celebrate Seahawks spirit and feel connected,” he said.
Zelko said he originally planned to buy jerseys for 10 to 15 kids with his tips from the playoffs, as well as donations from friends and family. But he took the fundraiser online once a friend recommended he use the website GoFundMe.
Originally, Zelko asked his fellow teachers for the names of a few kids who they thought could not afford a jersey. But the campaign gained momentum as Zelko’s story was picked up by the media.
Eventually, Zelko and other Kimball faculty decided to try to raise money to buy all 447 students a jersey from the Super Bowl-bound team.
The fundraiser got a big boost from a $9,000 donation from Greg Kero, an investment manager who heard Zelko talking about his effort in a radio interview.
The campaign reached its goal of $24,906 in donations this week. Any surplus donations, Zelko said, will be donated to Kimball for tutoring services for English language learners and supplies for the school’s technology department.
On Friday, the kids received their jerseys and celebrated at an assembly. Hordes of loud, chattering and smiling students filled the gym. They listened to speeches from faculty members, as well as former Seahawks players Tony Benjamin and Nesby Glasgow.
According to Principal Jo Lute-Ervin, about 60 percent of the school’s students are on free or reduced lunch.
Lute-Ervin said it’s “amazing” they were able to give all the kids new jerseys, which cost about $50 each with Zelko’s discount for working at CenturyLink Field.
“I think what Kevin did was so heartwarming and we know that it came from his heart because he really cares about the kids,” Lute-Ervin added.
At the end of the assembly, Zelko said it was “exciting” to see all the students donning Seahawks jerseys.
“And, hopefully, these kids will continue to be Seahawks fans for the rest of their lives and remember this day,” Zelko said.
Safiya Merchant: 206-464-2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org