Upwards of 35 different First Nations communities within the province of Ontario will be beneficiaries of a hockey equipment drive held this past Saturday at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. The organization, ‘First Nations Hockey Equipment Drive’ was spearheaded by volunteer Graham McWaters and is now in its fifth year. Thriving, it continues to show no sign of slowing down, as volunteers throughout Ontario gather bags of equipment from all parts of the province before a large delivery to various communities later in the year.
Following just a number of days of advertising, the First Nations Hockey Equipment Drive became a reality for the locale of Kitchener/Waterloo on Saturday, as cars, trucks, vans and buses rolled into the parking lot of ‘The Aud’, depositing new and used pieces of hockey equipment for the province’s less fortunate. After operating in various Ontario cities, McWaters chose to use Kitchener/Waterloo as one of the home collection bases for the first time.
“I wanted to do something to give back to the community and this was my way of doing it,” McWaters told CTV of his initiative. “I just reached out to a lot of people all over, some as far as Ottawa. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators have helped us out in the past. It appears I’m getting double to triple the amount I normally get, so that tells me the community has a really big heart.”
With the goal of collecting 700 bags of hockey equipment to be delivered to the 35 different First Nations in August of 2021, the Kitchener/Waterloo stop harvested an approximate estimation of 300-400 bags in total, as local hockey players, teams, and community members opted to donate of their extra equipment on hand during the collection period, running from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.
“We take all the hard goods, from helmets right down to the skates,” McWaters told CBC. “We take goalie equipment and hockey bags. When I walked inside the rink, I saw other children waiting to get into their dressing room with plastic bags, small duffel bags, and small overnight bags. Some of them were carrying two or three bags with their hockey equipment.”
Joining McWaters in Kitchener/Waterloo was Owen Sound Attack winger Ethan Burroughs and scout Mitchell Avis. Helping lead the way for donations within their neighbourhood, the two opted to help advertise the event as a way of helping to stay involved in their extended hockey community.
“No photo will do it justice but wow!” Avis posted in a Tweet following the collection. “What wonderful support from the RoW. We don’t have a definitive tally but believe you donated 300-400 bags of hockey equipment for First Nations youth, plus goalie gear! Your generosity will help so many First Nations youth. THANK YOU.”
Avis – who also biked 150 kilometres in early October helping raise over $3K for the First Nations Hockey Equipment Drive’s partner organization ‘Their Opportunity’, for the purchase of hockey helmets for this same cause – says the decision to get involved was a no-brainer.
“I found the First Nations Hockey Equipment Drive which really sort of mixes with my work life,” Avis told the OHL. “As a hockey family, we can acknowledge in today’s world a lot of us come from privileged backgrounds and not everyone has the same opportunities. The generous world that is hockey, I think everyone comes in it with a generous heart and a good mind, I think we can do some good in the world. This is part of my way of trying to make a little difference during my time.”
Burroughs, who is a second year forward on the Attack, also spoke of his interest in the event.
“I thought this was a perfect opportunity to start helping out,” Burroughs told the OHL. “I want to give back to the hockey world, and helping out with First Nations is also something that I’ve always wanted to do.”
After seeing Avis’ social media posts on the upcoming event, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward reached out to his fellow Owen Sound representative and inquired as to how he could get involved in the initiative – a move that thoroughly impressed Avis.
“This is something he identified with from following my bike ride on Twitter, so I connected him up with Graham and, between us, we came up with a plan,” Avis said. “It shows a lot of maturity from Ethan’s standpoint, he’s a great hockey player on the ice but I think this shows a lot of great leadership and how good of a guy he is off the ice as well, because it’s not something every 17-year-old kid is willing to do.”
With the goal of giving youth (as young as aged four) in various communities the chance to play and learn team-bonding skills while staying active, the equipment drive certainly drew the attention of the local community.
While suited up in PPE, volunteers and hockey teams from the local area spent the day on Saturday collecting and sorting each individual donation by size and function, while following various COVID-19 protocol. Next, the pieces of equipment, sticks and bags will be washed and sanitized and put into storage before being brought to the various First Nations throughout Ontario in late-summer.
Last year, the equipment drive garnered 500 bags of equipment which was delivered to 25 different communities, while this year’s goal continues to see progress on its fulfillment as cash donations, paired with equipment including skates, elbow pads, shin pads, shoulder pads, helmets, pants, sticks, bags, and goalie equipment came in. The only pieces of equipment not accepted at the drive thru event were undergarments, jerseys, socks, jocks, neckguards and mouthguards. The support shown by Kitchener/Waterloo will certainly go a long way in the climb to 700 bags.