ORLANDO, Fla. — “I know that it’s going to make a difference,” Orlando Police Department Youth Outreach Coordinator Joseph Lundy said. 

Bright-colored basketballs, soccer balls and volleyballs filled up bins and carts around Orlando on Saturday morning. Through a partnership between local nonprofit GROW Central Florida and the Orlando Police Department, the two groups  have already helped to collect more than 1,000 balls to pass out to children around Seminole and Orange counties to keep them busy and active throughout their summer break from school. 

What You Need To Know

  • Nonprofit GROW, Orlando Police collecting sports equipment

  • Police on patrol will give out the equipment to children, teens

  • Officers hope they can improve relationships in Orange, Seminole communities

  • Donaions being accepted at three local buinesses through Wednesday

“It is so important, especially coming out of this pandemic, that kids get outside and exercise, engage with their friends, their families,” said Colleen Gonzalez, executive director and founder of GROW Central Florida. “When kids get outside and play, it encourages great social skills, and when they play, it also helps them reduce their stress.”

Orlando Police Department patrol officer Rebekah Matviak said officers just like her will pass out the balls to youths while on their regular routes. She said she is hopeful they can help to create positive bonds between area children and the police, while giving them something fun to do in their neighborhoods. 

“So not just will we be seeing them in their yards or hanging out on the corners,” Matviak said. “But we’ll be able to give them something constructive to do while showing them like, ‘Oh this is cool. All right, the police officers are coming up, they’re providing us with this,' even walking them through and playing a game with them.” 

Many here are hopeful these small acts can be the start of building stronger relationships between the community and officers, especially now at a time when some people's views of law enforcement have become strained across the country. 

“To break down those barriers, to confront those issues that you’re speaking about in a way that we have dialogue and we’re speaking with the community and the youth, and then you’re opening up dialogue,” Lundy said. 

With plenty of equipment now gathered to pass out to 21 law enforcement agencies over the summer months, Matviak said they don't expect the basketballs they are collecting to be bouncing around in patrol cars for long.

“[They are] a great tool to just break that barrier,” Matviak said. 

GROW Central Florida is hoping to collect 3,000 balls to distribute to local children and teens this summer.  

If you want to donate but missed your chance this Saturday, you can donate in person at Track Shack in Orlando, Fleet Feet in SoDo or Maitland or to Keller Williams Advantage Realty in Oviedo, or virtually on GROW Central Florida's website.

The balls will be distributed to 21 law enforcement agencies through Seminole and Orange counties this Thursday.