By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS (RNS) As members of The Gathering began to hear of the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments after Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols had signed a $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, they decided to act.
"We heard people were burning their Pujols jerseys, and someone said, 'Why don't we ask them to donate the jerseys, and we'll give them away?'" said the Rev. Matt Miofsky, the pastor of the United Methodist church.
The 5-year-old church christened the effort, the "Recycle the Five Drive," a play on Pujols' jersey number. It began Facebook and Twitter campaigns to let disappointed Cardinals fans turn their anger into a positive.
"Don't burn those Pujols jerseys!" read the church's Facebook status update. "Bring them to The Gathering United Methodist Church -- during business hours and on Sunday." On Friday, a church tweet went out: "Don't burn that Pujols T-shirt or jersey! Bring it to 2105 McCausland. We'll donate it to a charity in Anaheim. Seriously."
Church member Elaine Kidwell, 74, a lifelong St. Louisan and Cardinals fan, first heard about The Gathering's jersey recycling effort on Facebook and declared it "a very cool idea."
"It's a great way to put a positive spin on something that's been very painful for all of us," Kidwell said. "I think Pujols really sold St. Louis out, and people are really feeling down about it. The Recycle Five Drive is a way to have fun, put a positive spin on the whole thing, and get people laughing about it."
The church brings in about 600 to 700 mostly young people to three worship services each Sunday.
"So much of faith is about perspective," Miofsky said. "There's collective disappointment and anger among some in the community, and part of our job as a church is to help people funnel those feelings into a making a positive difference."
Miofsky said a member of The Gathering has a friend in the Angels organization, and the church is working with Pujols' new team to find an appropriate clothing bank. The Angels did not immediately respond to a call for comment.
Helen Anderson at Mary's Kitchen, which provides services for the homeless in Orange County near Angel Stadium, said the organization would be thrilled with Pujols jerseys. "We love the Angels!" she said. Reminded that any donations from St. Louis would be Cardinals in nature, Anderson was undeterred. "That's all right. We love them, too!"
Melanie Merians of Covenant House of California, a shelter for homeless youths, said she was not sure whether her organization would distribute used Pujols jerseys to the teenagers it serves. "As much as possible, we try to get the kids new clothing that they can wear to job interviews," she said.
Whatever their eventual destination, Miofsky and his staff are preparing for a big haul for LA's needy.
"I have no idea what kind of response we'll get," said the pastor. "But we have a whole garage ready that can be filled up with stuff."
(Tim Townsend writes for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in St. Louis, Mo.)
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