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Compassion International Is Focused on Aiding 70,000 Kids Amid Vast Inequalities at a Time of COVID-Driven ‘Empty Stadiums’

August 2, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As millions all over the world watch the Tokyo Olympics this summer, the stands remain mostly empty amid the pandemic—a stark reminder of another global spectacle that deserves wide and immediate attention. People are starving. Inequality of all kinds is worsening as poorer people and nations lose their desperate and long-fought battle against hunger and poverty. Global hunger shot up by some 118 million people in 2020, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization.

Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, a former Olympian, knows the challenge of the “empty stadium” effect. Mellado is CEO of Compassion International, whose Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative has been providing essential food, medical care, and support to children living in extreme poverty amid a time of coronavirus. Mellado recruited pro athletes and others to assist in Fill the Stadium’s goal of helping 70,000 children in crisis. To date, the team has raised just over $29 million for some 58,700 children and their families. But they’re not done. They haven’t yet “filled” the stadium. They must still reach all 70,000 kids who are at risk of hunger—or worse.

Says Mellado, “Children are in crisis all over the world, and we will not forget them. Many are suffering as a direct result of the ‘empty stadium’ effect caused by the global pandemic. The state of emergency in Tokyo is a stark reminder of hardship. We must keep working on behalf of those who are crying out for help.”

Mellado is experienced at setting goals and working non-stop to achieve them. As a standout decathlete, he competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, representing his birth nation, El Salvador. He placed 26th of 42 athletes who qualified in Seoul and set six national records for the highest performance in the decathlon, 400 meters, high jump, 110-meter high hurdles, pole vault, and javelin. Mellado also competed in the Pan Am Games in 1987, placing fourth in the decathlon. And as a collegiate athlete, he was a member of Southern Methodist University’s 1983 NCAA Division 1 Indoor and Outdoor National Championship team, setting a school record that year. Today, he serves on the Board of Directors of Art of the Olympians.

For Mellado, the pursuit of significant goals is an internal driver. It’s why Mellado’s Fill the Stadium initiative is pushing harder than ever to “win” for the neediest. Those holding co-leadership roles in this charitable team effort are Alyssa Naeher, a member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team this year; Nick Foles, professional football MVP quarterback; Adam Engel of the Chicago White Sox; Sam Burns, PGA TOUR golfer; Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks; Jordy Nelson, former professional wide receiver; Carson Palmer, former professional quarterback; Devin and Jason McCourty, NFL defensive backs; Nate Solder of the New York Giants; Jaccob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes; Brock Huard, FOX sports broadcaster and former professional quarterback; and many others. Steve Stenstrom, president of Pro Athletes Outreach, is also playing a lead role in the effort.

In the COVID-19 era, “We have all experienced the reality of empty stadiums,” says the Fill the Stadium team. “The average NFL stadium holds 70,000 seats. We need to reach that many kids. This effort desperately needs a caring, prayerful, and thoughtful community to join together in this critical relief.”

To learn more, visit the Fill the Stadium website, as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Founded in 1952,Compassion International is a Christian child development organization that works to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name. Compassion revolutionized the fight against global poverty by working exclusively with the Church to lift children out of spiritual, economic, social, and physical poverty. Compassion partners with more than 8,000 churches in 25 countries to deliver its holistic child development program to over 2 million babies, children, and young adults. Its child sponsorship program has been validated through independent, empirical research.


To interview Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, president and CEO of Compassion International, or another Fill the Stadium spokesperson, contact Hamilton Strategies, Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, Jeff Tolson, 610.584.1096, ext. 108, or Deborah Hamilton, ext. 102.