‘Twas the day before Christmas and outside the ‘Dome, Flames alumni collected toys to take to their new homes.
The arena was transformed into Santa’s workshop this week as the Alumni Association held its annual toy drive.
Former Assistant Captain Rhett Warrener brought the initiative to Calgary after being inspired by Buffalo bruiser Rob Ray’s efforts.
The event was scaled down and moved outside this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak sweeping the NHL.
The alumni were supposed to collect donations from the relative warmth of the concourse, but instead braved blistering wind and sub-zero temperatures for hours as fans dropped off toys in the Saddledome loop.
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“Definitely not balmy,” Warrener joked. “We haven’t had a lot of chinooks for our toy delivery days.”
After filling several bins with donations, it was time to bring in reinforcements on wrapping day. Namely, their kids.
“It was really chaotic,” Karter Glencross said. She and her sister Paisley were tasked with assigning items to different age groups for the adults to wrap.
“It was fun picking out what the kids would like.”
On a chilly Christmas Eve, Perry Berezan, Joel Otto, Colin Patterson, Warrener, Glencross, and their families loaded up their vehicles and spread out across the Forest Lawn neighbourhood to deliver the gifts with some assistance from the Calgary Police Service.
Because of the pandemic, the alumni weren’t able to enter any houses, but posed for pictures on lawns and chatted with excited families who otherwise wouldn’t have any presents to open on Christmas day.
At some homes, the size of the delivery box was enough to send some kids cheering around the yard.
“Some kids are really excited and over the moon, and some are really shy, just like kids are,” Warrener added.
“It’s like when they see Harvey the Hound: some of them will just attack and some of them are cowering and hiding because they’re a little bit nervous. You never know what kind of reaction you’ll get but usually, by the end of it, when you see the toys and stuff, they have big smiles on their faces.”
“It was awesome,” Cherylee, a mother, said. “We might end up (unwrapping) it tonight. We’ll see how excited they truly are. They’re pretty all over the place right now!”
The team also passed out gift cards for the adults.
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“Times are tough for the families we’re delivering to and we’re hoping to brighten up their day and have a good Christmas,” Otto said.
Eleven families from the Calgary Police Foundation’s Integrated School Support Program were picked to receive the gifts this holiday season, all told.
The rest of the presents were donated to Calgary’s Women in Need Society (WINS).
While the Alumni hope to see the event return to a level of normalcy in 2022, the event remains a Christmas tradition they’re very proud of.
“It’s not about how many gifts you have and what you have under the tree,” Glencross said. “We’d rather support a family that we can help out in need.
“We want to instill that in our family and our kids and our values. That’s probably why it’s one of our favorite events to do.”
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