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Oceanside native helping with hunger crisis in Uganda amid coronavirus

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When Oceanside native Jason Steinberg first set out to bring smiles to people around the globe facing hardship through his nonprofit, the International Sports and Music Project, he never envisioned there being a global pandemic. Now, those very same people are relying on his company to help them battle starvation.

Steinberg’s company, headquartered in Brooklyn, brings sports and music initiatives to Greece and Syrian refugees to give them a better life. However, when Charles Mubiru, a teacher at a school in Uganda where Steinberg’s company helped bring the first of only five FIFA-regulation soccer fields in the country, called Steinberg in April with harrowing news, the company pivoted.

“The tone in his voice and the message that he was delivering was vastly different than anything I ever heard from him before,” he recalled of Mubiru, with whom his organization has partnered for many years. “He said the kids have nothing to eat and the staff doesn’t either. There were 1,400 people they were trying to feed.”

After the call, Steinberg contacted his business partners and asked for fundraising support from Oceanside and other communities. Through research, they discovered that it costs $1.30 to feed one child in Uganda three meals per day. Now, his company is continuing to raise funds, and he sends the money to Mubiru, who purchases items like oil, flour, rice and beans in bulk to deliver to students at the school.

“We are pivoting in a very profound way to emergency food relief,” he said. “Rather than working on the next soccer field or dance teacher, we are organizing a food bank and organizing food packages.”

In 2015, Steinberg quit his day job with a book publishing company to focus full-time on his passion: bringing sports and music to people — especially children — facing hardship around the world.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2014, he spent a year teaching English through WorldTeach at a high school on the small island of Pohnpei, Micronesia. While there, he realized how much the children loved basketball. But they had no team.

The next week, he invited students to join him on the basketball court, and about 50 high schoolers plated, even though they were barefoot.

Shortly thereafter, he contacted family, friends and others through Facebook and sought donations. Within a week, he said, he received enough money to buy sneakers, jerseys and basketballs for the budding athletes. He helped the school start two boys’ teams and a girls’ team, allowing anyone to participate. Then Steinberg began seeing positive changes in the students, mentally and academically.

Steinberg graduated from Oceanside High School in 2010 and was a peace, war and defense major in college. He minored in music, and plays guitar and piano.

After a year, Steinberg left the island and founded ISMP in the summer of 2015. Besides maintaining the basketball program in Micronesia, he wanted to expand his organization. He eventually organized hubs in Greece and Africa, where he helped create many programs, including basketball, soccer, music and dance initiatives at orphanages, schools and rehab centers. ISMP also has a hub in New York, where they offer basketball training and music lessons to teenagers living in homeless shelters in Manhattan.

He noted that his focus for the company shifted after the call from Muribu. With much of the world locked down and businesses closed during Covid-19, natives of Uganda do not have government assistance, large savings accounts or any safety net to rely on. They needed help.

“Sports and music are on hiatus and that very lockdown has caused our partners and students to be thrust into a hunger crisis,” Steinberg said. “We don’t have a lot of experience in food delivery, but in this particular situation, our partners are relying on us and we have access to people who are hit the hardest by this catastrophe.”

Steinberg added that through work on an emergency campaign with shelters and his partners, they were able to brainstorm ways to provide money to Uganda, which was used to feed the hungry. Those who live close to the school can pick up the items when they are brought there, and others who live further away can arrange for delivery.

He said with all that is going on, issues with hunger in other parts of the world have largely been ignored.

“Not everyone is thinking about the hunger crisis,” he said. “Everyone is dealing with their own problems, so we feel like it’s our responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless. One day we’ll get back to soccer, we’ll get back to dancing, but right now there are other urgent needs and I just feel grateful that I’m a part of a community that rises to these challenges.”

To learn more or donate, visit ismproject.org.