By Srianthi Perera

Fiesta Bowl Charities, whose main benefactors are youth, sports and education, announced a whopping $2.5 million in charitable giving for 2017-18.

Fittingly, the announcement came during a wellness assembly of about 5,000 students at the football stadium of the Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.

The wellness assembly, part of the Be Kind People Project, was sponsored by the charity.

Mike Nealy, executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, said this year’s donation was the largest amount the nonprofit has donated to date. Last year’s giving was $2 million. In total during the last seven years, the organization has donated more than $10 million to Arizona.

“Fiesta Bowl Charities, our board of directors and entire organization are honored that we can enhance the lives of Arizonans through this increased level of funding that sets a new standard,” Nealy said. “Our three pillars of youth, sports and education drive everything we do, including determining where this money was distributed.”

The Scottsdale-based organization’s giving depends on the success of its PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, the Cactus Bowl and other community events, Nealy said.

We would like people to “go to the games, buy tickets to our games, go to our events, support us – all that gets consolidated,” he said. “If we have it, we’re going to give it.”

This year’s grants will benefit 67 nonprofit organizations and impact nearly 1 million people around the state.

It will help serve about 400,000 meals, provide educational programming to about 250,000 underserved youth and  purchase about 100,000 backpacks.

Teachers are also not forgotten.

The Fiesta Bowl Wishes for Teachers, established last year, will distribute up to $500,000 of the grant money. This means chosen teachers receive $5,000 to benefit students. Applications for the program open in mid-September.

Teachers dig into their own pockets when they need supplies, Nealy said.

From all accounts, the teacher’s grants have gone a long way, he noted.

“One classroom bought eyeglasses to those students that didn’t have the ability to buy them. Another school bought the school a field trip that otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to do,” he said.

Teachers also bought Kindles and other electronics, sports equipment and school supplies with the grant money.

“Things that aren’t in the budget these days – you name it. That’s why we made it $5,000 because $5,000 can make a difference in classrooms,” he said.

The Be Kind People Project is a grant recipient that enhances schools as well.

The movement inspires students to be encouraging, supportive, positive, respectful and thankful, among other positive traits.

At Campo Verde, the Be Kind Crew put on a lively and entertaining display focused on fitness, nutrition and kindness.

“We fund Be Kind because of the wonderful things they do and they can make a difference in school systems,” Nealy said.