The NHL lockout left many businesses and individuals without a regular flow of cash that comes only when the club is playing. That’s also true for the charities that rely on in-game fundraising.
“We typically will evaluate for our cash-on-hand to grant at about this time of year,” said Jen Bowden, executive director of the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the club that relies on in-game fundraising as part of its ability to fund nearly half a million dollars in community grants each Spring.
The Foundation has donated $3 million to local charities since arriving in 2000 and raised over $1 million in the fight against pediatric cancer. It missed out on 50/50 drawings, raffles, and other in-game fundraising that would have occurred during the 3 months the lockout took place, including the Hockey Fights Cancer fundraiser in October that would have brought in around $25,000.
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“Just prior to the lockout, we were able hold our annual golf outing,” said Bowden of the Golf Classic that raised $140,000 for the Foundation. “That was a great chance for us to raise funds for what would have been the first part of the season.”
Bowden said the numbers won’t be clear until April, after the Black Tie Blue Jackets Feb. 27 fundraiser and the two jersey auctions—St. Patrick’s Day and Military Appreciation Night camo jerseys—in March and April are complete, but they did take a hit at a time when the Foundation is seeing an increase in need from the charities it supports in four areas of the community including pediatric cancer, youth and amateur hockey, education and children’s health and safety.
“It’s getting harder and harder for (the nonprofit community), financially, to continue to do the work that the community relies on, because the work is more expensive,” said Bowden. “Not only have we seen more nonprofits applying, but we have also seen an increase for their grant awards.”
That makes the Foundation’s fundraisers over the next three months must-win’s.
“We want to try and raise as much money as possible,” said Bowden. “The more money we raise the more we’re able to give back to the community.”
The lockout did give the Foundation and the club a unique opportunity to give back to the community in other ways, though.
“We shifted gears and saw our main focus as getting out and utilizing the coaches, the front office staff and employees to be visible in the community,” said Bowden of the club’s efforts to volunteer at the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, give Parsons Avenue a makeover and visit Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Everyone would have preferred to be playing hockey but we made the most of the extra time we had.”
Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the club’s key community partners and a guaranteed recipient of funds from the Foundation. A check for $125,000 was presented to Children’s Hospital for pediatric cancer initiatives before the Blue Jackets/Red Wings game Feb. 2, in conjunction with the Dispatch Media group.
“The Blue Jackets partnership with Children’s started before the team even got to Columbus. We really have worked side-by-side, hand-in-hand with them from the get-go,” said Nichole Ferris, Associate Director of Constituent Giving at Nationwide Children’s. “They’ve been supporting the hospital every year, lockout or not.”
Ferris said the club committed $1.5 million to the hospital over time. Part of that commitment is the Blue Jackets Family Resource Center, opened in March 2006 on the main common floor of the hospital, where families can go and do their own laundry, check their e-mail, get a haircut—the every day things often taken for granted.
“Some patients and their families will travel 2-3 hours to get an MRI done, go to a specialist, get an x-ray—they try to do all those visits at one time,” said Ferris. “That space really gives them a place to land in between.”
Ferris said Blue Jackets Assistant Coach Dan Hinote was one of the club’s staffers she had the chance to speak with during one of the club’s many visits to the hospital during the lockout.
“No child should ever have to battle cancer and they certainly should never have to battle it alone,” said Ferris. “It’s a community effort and a fight that we’re all in together and the Blue Jackets really support our cause strongly.”
Hinote said having children of his own has changed the way he views visits to Nationwide Children’s.
“Having two of my own and seeing these families, you really understand the strength of these children who are able to keep an upbeat attitude during all this. They’re just so resilient,” said Hinote. “You end up leaving there with so much more then you came with.”
Hinote said the work the Foundation does with the hospital is unprecedented, particularly the resource room and its amenities for patients and families.
“I’ve done work with Colorado, the Children’s Hospital there, and St. Louis, and then you come here and it’s a whole different world. The resources they have here at their disposal are, I don’t know if it’s equal anywhere in the country,” said Hinote. “I know my sister, who works at the University if Minnesota hospital, I asked her about it and she’s never heard of half the stuff they have here, so it’s really phenomenal all the work they do.”
Hinote said hockey and philanthropy are a natural fit, particularly in a blue collar town like Columbus.
“It’s really hard to make it in hockey. It‘s not just you doing it, it’s your parents, your siblings, your uncles, your aunts, your teachers—there’s so much sacrifice made that by the time you make it to the NHL you are so thankful to so many different people that you understand you didn’t get here by yourself,” said Hinote. “So you look for opportunities to give back to a community that has helped you get to where you are. Maybe you’re from a different city or you’re from a different country but you understand blue collar and you understand hard work. That’s why there such a connection between hockey and the community, is because of the roads you have to take to get there and how hard it is.”
Bowden is hoping that commitment results in the community giving back during the upcoming fundraisers. The St. Patrick’s Day jersey auction is set for March 16, the camo jersey auction is set for Military Appreciation Night on April 7 and the Black Tie Blue Jackets Style Show is Feb. 27 at Nationwide Arena. Tickets can be purchased and sponsorships set at blacktiebluejackets.com.
“Every single player will be in attendance and over 15 will be participating,” said Bowden of the show. “The thing I hear from players, they’re coming back from the lockout, and when asked about the style show say, ‘Of course I’m going to be there.’”
Nick Foligno will make his style show debut this year alongside fashion show regulars like Vinny Prospal, Derek Mackenzie and Derek Dorsett.
Dorsett said he’s excited, though he feels much more comfortable in his hockey sweater than a suit and tie.
“I’m not a guy that really likes the spotlight and the fashion, but it’s all for a good cause and I wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” said the man wearing an “A” on his jersey. “That’s a number one fear in my life—I just want to have a healthy kid someday and some people aren’t fortunate enough to have that. Those kids are fighting something no one wants to go through. To bring them down and put them on the stage in front of a big crowd and see the smile it puts on their faces, it makes you feel really good. You know, we’re in a position to give back and we should. It’s a great feeling.”
For more information on upcoming fundraisers and how you can help, visit bluejacketsfoundation.org.