As the Paralympics Begin, Compassion International’s Fill the Stadium Team Vows to Reach 70,000 Children in Crisis

Former Olympian Santiago ‘Jimmy’ Mellado and His Co-Leaders Know the ‘Empty Stadium’ Effect Far Too Well at a Time of COVID, Chaos, and Crushing Inequalities

August 25, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Paralympics started this week in Tokyo—and, as was the case with the Olympics, organizers have announced that there will be no one permitted in the stands due to the ongoing pandemic. Even so, millions look forward to following the feats of outstanding athletes from all over the world as they strive for Paralympic glory despite some of the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

Compassion International, whose Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative has been working tirelessly to provide essential food, medical care, and support to poverty-stricken children at this time of coronavirus, can’t help but think of Emilda Soriano, a young Filipino woman whom Compassion helped earlier in her life before she competed in the Athens Paralympics in 2011. As a young child, Emilda suffered a convulsion after a high fever; and when she awoke after six long days, she could not distinguish letters, numbers, or colors. Yet she could run—and loved to do so. Her parents encouraged her passion and sacrificed enormously despite their poverty to help her excel as a runner. Remarkably, at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Emilda won a bronze medal in the 200m race and finished fourth in the 100m.

Says Compassion’s CEO Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado, himself a former Olympian, “Emilda’s triumph over hardship reminds us that God can use anyone for His purposes. Fill the Stadium understands the potential of each individual and wants to help all children around the world—and our mission is more urgent than ever.”

Mellado is determined to reach Fill the Stadium’s stated goal of helping 70,000 children in crisis. To date, he and his team have raised $31 million for over 62,100 children and their families, but they’re not done. They must still “fill the stadium” and reach all 70,000 kids in desperate straits who are at grave risk of hunger—or worse.

Adds Mellado, “We are committed to caring for 70,000 children who were not sponsored due to the pandemic, which is enough children to fill an average NFL football stadium. As the world moves from the Olympics and toward the Paralympics, we at Compassion consider the empty stadiums in Tokyo a sobering reminder of all those who still need essential food, health care, and support as this crisis continues.”

Mellado is familiar with the fight to “win” for others. As a standout decathlete, he competed in the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, representing his birth nation, El Salvador. His connection with the Olympic Committee was formed at that time—and out of it came the Compassion Olympics. Mellado placed 26th of 42 athletes who qualified in Seoul and set six national records for the highest performance in the decathlon, men’s high jump, 400m, 110m high hurdles, pole vault, and javelin. His decathlon record still stands 32 years later. Mellado also competed in the Pan Am Games in 1987, placing fourth in the decathlon.

Yet Mellado has an urgent charitable mission today: to “fill the stadium.” It’s why Compassion’s Fill the Stadium initiative is pushing harder than ever to succeed on behalf of the world’s neediest.

In the COVID-19 era, “We have all experienced the reality of empty stadiums,” says the FtS 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.”

Those holding co-leadership roles in this humanitarian effort are Alyssa Naeher, a member of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team (which won a Bronze Medal in Tokyo); 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.

To learn more about this effort, 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,, Jeff Tolson, 610.584.1096, ext. 108, or Deborah Hamilton, ext. 102.