Members of the local hockey community in Newmarket and across York Region and Bradford came together for a hockey equipment drive that ended up with hundreds of hockey bags donated for First Nations communities.
Players, their families and members of the community came out to the Magna Centre to provide various pieces of equipment, whole hockey bags, and even some brand new gear at the event spanning two September weekends.
The drive was organized by the York Simcoe Express (YSE) in partnership with Richmond Hill resident Graham McWaters, who began the First Nations Hockey Equipment Drive in 2015.
“The people from Newmarket are unbelievable. Well, they’re coming in from everywhere, Georgina, Bradford, Newmarket, Aurora, anyone that’s linked to the York Simcoe Express AAA community,” McWater said.
The Town of Newmarket also lent a hand with the drive, donating garbage bags, gloves and face masks, as well as a trailer to store items in between the two weekends.
Mayor John Taylor and Councillor Bob Kwapis also were on hand greeting drivers as they arrived to drop off their donations.
“The support we got from the hockey families and the community, including the mayor’s office, was incredible,” McWaters said.
Wendy Vickerman, vice-president of the YSE, agreed the hockey community stepped up.
"It’s well received by many different communities and hockey players at many different levels,” she said.
Vickerman, who is Indigenous and grew up in a remote community in Northern Quebec, said doing the drive was really special.
“This definitely has a special place in my heart to be able to give back and it was great that YSE got involved in doing this,” she said.
She added that the volunteers from across the hockey community took part, too.
“It’s great to see all the kids are getting involved and it’s great to be bringing awareness to the Indigenous people and be able to give back,” Vickerman said.
One of the volunteers on Saturday, Sept. 18 was Jalen Angco, a Newmarket Renegades player who has been playing hockey since he was four or five years old.
“I want to help out the kids that can’t afford this equipment so that they can play hockey,” he said. “I feel like I’m helping out and I’m doing something for these kids.”
It was a sentiment shared by a lot of the hockey players who came out to volunteer.
“It means a lot just to know some other kids have a chance to grow up and play hockey just like I did. Hockey is a big sport with friends and family, it brings everybody together,” said Jack Cartwright, who plays on the East Gwillimbury Eagles.
The local girls hockey associations got involved, too, and Aurora Panthers players Jersie Lindley and Kaitlyn Brown said they were happy to be helping out and providing kids with the opportunity to play.
“It’s huge because we want those kids to grow up and be able to play,” Lindley said.
Brown agreed and said, “It’s the next generation. Our parents gave us the opportunity, so now we’re trying to give kids the opportunity, too.”
McWaters, who regularly holds the drives with local hockey teams, was organizing the volunteers who unloaded the equipment from the donors' vehicles, then sorted, bagged and tagged it before loading the donations on a truck at the end of the day and taking it to a storage unit in Barrie.
On the first weekend, he said they collected 150 hockey bags of equipment. On Sept. 18, they collected about 90 bags and he was expecting to receive 50 more the following day.
“We had a lot of goalie equipment this year, more than we’ve ever had,” McWaters said.
One of the donations was a brand new goalie helmet worth $400.
McWaters said they had so much equipment that he had arranged a special pick-up in Barrie for later that day, with people making the five-hour drive from Manitoulin Island.
“Instead of us putting some of this in our storage, we’re literally going to be taking it out of our truck, straight onto a vehicle and a trailer and they’re heading back to Manitoulin,” he said. “There’s 3,400 people in that community and hundreds of the kids play hockey.”
They picked up 50 of the hockey bags to take back to their community and McWaters said whatever they didn’t need was going to be distributed to other First Nations on the island.