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Charitable Team Effort Run by Former Olympian Santiago ‘Jimmy’ Mellado Knows the ‘Empty Stadium’ Effect Too Well—and Is Determined to Reach All70,000 Kids in Crisis

August 16, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Summer Olympics are behind us now and the Paralympics will soon start, yet many people won’t easily forget the sight of the empty stands in Tokyo amid the pandemic. Those empty stands were a vivid reminder of another global spectacle deserving of wide attention. People are starving as poorer nations lose their fight against hunger and poverty. Sadly, COVID has only exacerbated the issue.

Compassion International, through its Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) team initiative, has been hard at work providing essential food, medical care, and support to poverty-stricken children at this time of coronavirus—and FtS can’t help but recall the Compassion Olympics held in El Salvador in 2019. Together with the Olympic Committee in El Salvador, Compassion worked with more than 250 churches to engage over 1,500 kids in sports and keep them out of the clutches of vicious gangs. Compassion and FtS look forward to the day when everyone can celebrate together at the next Compassion Olympics.

Compassion’s CEO Santiago “Jimmy” Mellado—a former Olympian himself—is determined to reach FtS’s stated goal of helping 70,000 children in crisis. To date, he and his team have raised $30 million for over 61,000 children and their families, but they’re not done yet. They must still “fill the stadium” and reach all 70,000 kids in desperate straits who are at grave risk of hunger—or worse.

Says 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 towards the Paralympics, we at Compassion hope the empty stadiums in Tokyo were a sobering reminder of those who still need essential food, health care, and support as this crisis continues.”

Mellado is familiar with the fight to “win” on behalf of 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 a far more urgent mission today: To “fill the stadium.” It’s why his 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 charitable team 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, Media@HamiltonStrategies.com, Jeff Tolson, 610.584.1096, ext. 108, or Deborah Hamilton, ext. 102.