A Home Run Against Homelessness: Trinity Buddies fundraiser seeks to help struggling San Antonio families

Senior softball player Gina Monaco ignites athletics-wide competition to assist students in need


Claire Sammons

Founder of Trinity Buddies Gina Monaco showing off the new bracelets.

As the Spring 2021 season swings into full gear, all 18 of Trinity’s varsity sports are competing for a united cause off the field. Between Feb. 1 and April 26, each team will compete to raise as much money as possible for homeless families and students in San Antonio’s North East Independent School District (NEISD) as part of the “Trinity Buddies United As One” fundraiser.

Teams are raising money by accepting donations, and anyone who donates five dollars to the fundraiser can receive an exclusive Trinity Buddies bracelet. The exclusive bracelets come in white and maroon and read ‘Trinity Buddies’ on one side and ‘Be Kind and Loving’ on the other. According to Gina Monaco, senior softball player and the founder of Trinity Buddies, the bracelets are more than just an incentive to encourage donations.

“The message is on there, then the name is on there, so it’s kind of that constant reminder of who you helped and why you helped and moving forward, hopefully they can then give back to possibly anyone they pass because they’re reminded with the bracelet,” Monaco said.

Helping Families in Need

All the proceeds from the Trinity Buddies fundraiser are going to help homeless students and families across the NEISD through the McKinney-Vento homeless program. According to Tyler Shoesmith, Senior Director of Family Support Services at NEISD and the homeless liaison for the district, the monies raised by the Trinity Buddies fundraiser will be able to help homeless and displaced families by providing necessary resources that are not necessarily related to school success.

While the McKinney-Vento program receives federal funding through the McKinney grant, any money dedicated to the program has many restrictions. According to Shoesmith, the district can purchase uniforms, backpacks, and other school supplies for displaced students, but they cannot buy anything that isn’t directly related to academic success, such as clothing or temporary lodging.

However, any donated funds, like the ones being raised by Trinity’s varsity teams, are free from these federal restrictions as long as the money is being spent on the donor’s designated purpose. This means that fundraiser money will go towards providing resources for displaced families who lose housing that do not fall within the restrictions of federal funding, which according to Shoesmith are just as important to a student’s well being.

“Additional funds that come in, those go to gift cards and go to hotels; it goes to just random incidentals that families may need to be able to support themselves just to get to the next day to send a kid to school because once you’re in school, then we’re gonna provide a safe environment with food and shelter and transportation and all those things,” Shoesmith said.

Shoesmith anticipates an increased need for these funds in April and May after the extended federal eviction moratorium expires on March 31st. A side effect of the moratorium has actually been a decrease in the number of homeless families seeking support from the school district and homeless shelters nationwide.

According to Shoesmith, at this point in a normal school year NEISD would have qualified approximately 960 students for the McKinney-Vento program, but have only qualified 600 kids this year. This is partly because many students who would have lost housing were never officially considered displaced by the district because they were able to remain in their homes and continue distance learning.

However, when the moratorium ends, families who are unable to pay months of owed rent plus fines and fees will be evicted from their homes and will rely on the support and resources that the district provides, making funds that can be used flexibly and for non-school related items extremely helpful.

Community-Inspired Service

The roots of the Trinity Buddies organization are tied to Monaco’s upbringing in NEISD. Monaco, an NEISD alumni, founded Trinity Buddies three years ago with the goal of giving back to her community.

Along with her teammates on the softball team, Monaco was able to partner with McAllister Park Little League, where she played baseball growing up, and her old school to set up a mentoring program where Trinity athletes would speak to younger students and invite them out to Trinity softball games. Even the motto ‘Be Kind and Loving’ comes from Monaco’s fourth grade teacher, Suzanne Horan.

With COVID-19 restrictions, the organization was thrown a curveball that forced them to alter their mentorship program and find a creative way to give back to the community. According to Monaco, they were able to organize online school visits using her connections with former teachers. After receiving positive feedback and offers to help from student-athletes on other teams who heard about what Trinity Buddies was doing, the idea of the fundraiser was born. According to Monaco, it was easy to get all the athletic teams to participate.

All 18 teams immediately jumped on board,” Monaco said. “It just really kind of all started falling into place, and despite the COVID restrictions and guidelines, we’re still able to do something, so I’m just extremely happy that it’s able to still go on despite outside circumstances.”

The support from Trinity Athletics is not limited to just student-athletes. According to Monaco, head strength and conditioning coach David Martinez has offered his help and mentorship throughout. Additionally, Justin Parker and Harrison LaLone, the head and assistant Sports Information Directors, have helped Monaco increase the visibility for Trinity Buddies.

According to LaLone, Trinity’s Sports Information department has provided Monaco with visual aids and advising on social media content to help create a brand identity for Trinity Buddies that helps effectively share information about the fundraiser.

“Primarily, what Justin and I have done is just provide some feedback, using the
knowledge that we have of how to better promote this and how we can use Trinity athletics’ brand and brand awareness visibility for what Trinity buddies is doing,” LaLone said. “We also advised [Monaco] to create her own social media platform for Trinity buddies.”

Following their advice, Monaco has created Twitter and Instagram accounts that provide updates on how each team is doing in the fundraiser. The accounts also spotlight why players are eager to give back.

The Competition Begins

Each of Trinity’s teams will have one designated week in which they will be highlighted on social media and on Tiger Network broadcasts of live games in order to help them raise money for the competition.

Monaco has set an overall goal of $11,000 for the fundraiser. As of Thursday, Feb 11, Trinity Buddies had raised $500 with softball leading the way in donations.

According to Monaco, while the team who wins won’t necessarily win a prize, they will get the bragging rights of knowing they raised the most money for families in need.

To donate, people can Venmo @TrinityBuddies and specify which sports team they want to support with their donation. When donating, people can also request whether they want a maroon or white bracelet.