When Malvernite John Gotimer had an idea to start a non-profit to provide sports equipment to children around the world who couldn't afford it, the first person he turned to was Jim Callahan.
This was early 2006, five years before Callahan, a father of four and Malverne village trustee,from cancer at the age of 42. Back then, Callahan was Gotimer's assistant coach on the Little League team their sons both played on. One day, as the two men were standing on a baseball field, Gotimer turned to Callahan and said, "Jim, I had this idea..."
"He was so enthusiastic," Gotimer recalls. "He just thought it was a great idea."
The plan had stemmed from a video project Gotimer worked on earlier that year for the Malverne Little League. He had reached out to groups from around the world asking them to send a video of their local youth sports teams, wearing their uniforms, standing on their own baseball diamond and saying, "Hi, Malverne."
It sounded simple, but instead, he received letters back from the Phillipines, where the kids wanted to participate but couldn't afford shoes, let alone uniforms. (Gotimer quietly sent them 25 pairs of sneakers.) He heard back from a group in Zambia, Africa, who also wanted to appear in the video, but asked if it mattered that the kids would be playing with trash bags rolled up in duct tape since they didn't own balls. (Gotimer again pulled out his credit card and sent them sports equipment.) He also heard from a Little League director in Louisiana who said that Hurricane Katrina had destroyed all their equipment so they didn't think they would be able to have a season that year. (Gotimer made sure that didn't happen.)
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories like this delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.
And so with Callahan's support, Project H.O.T. S.H.O.T.S., which stands for Helping Others Through Sports Have Outstanding Tomorrows, was born.
In 2006, the charity raised funds to set-up a soccer program in Honduras and provided cleats, equipment and other sporting goods to kids in need in the United States and abroad. Over the years, they also recruited celebrities like Malverne native Tony Danza and sports figures like the late Gary Carter.
But Gotimer wanted to help kids not only on the sports fields but also in school. He had already sent some supplies to a U.S. Marine charged with guarding a school in Iraq where the children had no books, pencils or backpacks, and soon learned they weren't alone.
And so in 2007, the first backpack project was held inside the basement of , through which Project H.O.T. S.H.O.T.S. was able to provide 1,000 new backpacks, each one stuffed with supplies, to kids in need. In 2008, they had to move to thegym as the program grew fivefold to 5,000 backpacks, an effort that was repeated in 2009 and again in 2010.
All the items were purchased through generous sponsorships, and hard-working volunteers spent hours assembling the packs and preparing them to be shipped. The event usually features a guest speaker (last year it was Malverne Mayor Patricia Norris McDonald), raffles and performances by the Malverne PTA Choir but Gotimer says, "I always stress to people that this is not a party ... you're going to do some hard work and you're going to feel good about it."
It's also a time to honor the loved ones that have been lost. Each sponsorship is made in someone's name and inside the gym each year there is a canvas, upon which participants can dedicate their efforts to a loved one.
With the loss of Callahan, who served on the charity's board, in 2011, Gotimer decided to forgo the backpack drive and instead quietly made small donations to different groups, but this year, he is bringing the program back and with overwhelming support from the Callahan family, he's dedicating it in Jim's honor.
"The James J. Callahan Memorial Operation: 5,000 Backpacks Program - A Celebration of a Life Spent Helping Others" will take place on July 21 at the in Malverne from noon to 4 p.m.
Although the program only officially launches this week, Gotimer has already started to receive generous donations including a $10,000 sponsorship from Malvernites Joann Zappa, who attended law school with Callahan, and Peter Freeman, which will pay for the 5,000 backpacks. Their donation was made in memory of Peter's parents, David and Naomi Freeman.
You can also make a sponsorship in someone's honor and/or sign-up to volunteer on July 21 to stuff the backpacks. Click here for information and print out the attached brochure.
Since 2006, Project H.O.T. S.H.O.T.S. has made it possible for tens of thousands of children around the world to partake in sports, school and the arts, but Gotimer says, "This probably wouldn't have happened without Jim ... he was basically the V.P."
"The Jim connection is something we all feel very strong about," Gotimer says, as he reflected on the contributions Callahan made to not only the charity, but also the village of Malverne, the Boy Scouts, the parish of in West Hempstead, where his children attend school, and Nassau County, where he served as commissioner of Emergency Management.
"He was just being a friend to all of us," he adds.