Downsview Hockey Club Puts on Barbecue for 500 War Veterans and Their Families

Courtesy of Hockey Now

Hockey players and team-bonding activities go hand-in-hand like barbecue and summer.

And when the latter is rooted in a good cause and the hockey sticks are exchanged for food trays, the bonding experience becomes that much more worthwhile.

Volunteering at Sunnybrook Hospital has become almost second nature for the Downsview Hockey Club’s (now) midget junior Gold team, who have done so on various occasions over the last three seasons. And on this cloudy Saturday in August, the team’s young players once again spent their time socializing with Army, Navy and Air Force veterans, this time by putting on a barbecue, complete with all the fixings.

“For years, even before the team we’re with now, there was a hockey team that would come out and be with the veterans and serve them lunch,” said team manager Brenda Arruda. “It’s wonderful because they get a chance to bond with these people – not through the effect that we bond with our friends, but it gives them a better respect and appreciation for those who are ahead of us and what they may have gone through.”

This particular ward at Sunnybrook Hospital houses roughly 500 war veterans who need extra assistance due to various medical conditions or restrictions to their physical capabilities.

Veterans, along with some of their family members, filled the dining area to be served burgers, hotdogs, snacks and refreshments.

And, of course, they were not the only ones who were benefitting from the event.

“Having an opportunity to help others is beneficial not only for the person receiving the help, but those who are giving it as well,” said recreation therapist Joseanne Spiteri. “I like that given their ages, that they’re being exposed to a hospital environment. It helps them feel more comfortable around people who are different from themselves.”

The importance of the younger generations remembering and appreciating our veterans’ enormous efforts and sacrifices cannot be stressed enough. It was the late Jason Vardy who kickstarted the initiative, while Arruda’s son originally wore the organization’s black and yellow jersey a few years back. When Arruda’s husband Charlie, one of Gold’s assistant coaches, joined her active participation throughout the years, it became clear they were destined to continue the tradition.

“Unfortunately, not all veterans have someone to come and see them,” said Arruda. “This is something they mark on their calendar as an event, like we do for a birthday or an anniversary. They look forward to these visits.”

Events like these have been specially organized by Sunnybrook’s recreation therapists to help target the needs of residents in their care.

“They’re very grateful for the help and they realize that these volunteers are doing this out the goodness of their heart,” said Spiteri, who’s in the midst of her twelfth year as a recreation therapist. “They’re very dedicated. They’ve come to every event I’ve had with the ANAF (Army/Navy/Air Force) and not only do I appreciate it, but I know the veterans do as well.”

Whether it’s barbecues in the summer or school visits on Remembrance Day, the visits help develop bonds between players and veterans, and have a secondary team-building effect.

“Accomplishing goals on the ice builds one type of unity, but getting them outside the arena environment is actually what bonds them,” Arruda explained. “These functions, to interact not only with themselves and the coaching staff, help them build their community as well and that’s very important.

“Having it a part of your life for so long, the practices and games, allows these players to bond like a second family. Some of the players you meet make connections for life and I know that was definitely the case for my son.”

While the boys are now inching closer to having their presence felt on the ice, by the time the Christmas party on December 3 rolls around, they’ll be well conditioned and ready to tackle the hunger that comes with serving a holiday feast.

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