It was Christmas Eve and outside the ‘Dome, the 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.
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Former assistant captain Rhett Warrener brought the initiative to Calgary after being inspired by the efforts of Buffalo killer Rob Ray.
The event was scaled down and moved outdoors this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak that swept through the NHL.
Alumni were supposed to collect donations thanks to the relative warmth of the hall, but instead braved sweltering winds and sub-zero temperatures for hours as fans dropped toys into the Saddledome loop.
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“Definitely not sweet,” Warrener joked. “We haven’t had many Chinooks for our toy delivery days.”
After filling several bins with donations, it was time to bring in reinforcements on packing day. Namely, their children.
“It was really chaotic,” Karter Glencross said. She and her sister Paisley were tasked with assigning items to different age groups for adults to wrap up.
“It was fun to choose what the kids would like.”
On a cold Christmas Eve, Perry Berezan, Joel Otto, Colin Patterson, Warrener, Glencross and their families loaded up their vehicles and scattered through the Forest Lawn neighborhood to deliver the gifts with the help of the Calgary Police Department .
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Due to the pandemic, alumni were unable to enter any homes, but posed for photos on the lawns and chatted with excited families who otherwise wouldn’t have presents to open on Christmas Day. .
In some homes, the delivery box was big enough to send kids clapping around the yard.
“Some kids are really excited and thrilled, and some are really shy, just like kids,” Warrener added.
“It’s like when they see Harvey the dog: some of them will just attack and some of them will cower and hide because they’re a little nervous. You never know what kind of reaction you’ll get, but usually at the end when you see the toys and all, they have big smiles on their faces.
“It was awesome,” said Cherylee, a mother. “We might end up (unpacking) tonight. We’ll see how excited they really are. They’re all over the place right now!”
The team also distributed gift cards for adults.
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“Times are tough for the families we deliver to and we hope to brighten their day and have a great Christmas,” Otto said.
Eleven families from the Calgary Police Foundation’s Integrated School Support Program have been chosen to receive the gifts this holiday season, in total.
The remainder of the gifts were donated to the Women in Need Society (WINS) of Calgary.
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While the alumni hope to see the event return to a level of normality in 2022, the event remains a Christmas tradition that they are very proud of.
“It’s not about how many gifts you have and what you have under the tree,” Glencross said. “We prefer to support a family that we can help in need.
“We want to instill that in our family, in our children and in our values. That’s probably why it’s one of our favorite events to do.
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