Despite the heavy snowfall and gusting winds one Monday morning the Stingers’ men’s hockey team emerged from their cars at Mountainside United Church in the early morning. Clad in jogging suits and warm hats, they gravitated towards the coffee machine in a hall of the church. On the floor was a large, blue mat. Some time later, a massive 18-wheeler backed into the parking lot and swung open the back door.
For the past few years, the Stingers have helped unload and organize a truck full-anywhere form 1,500 to 2,500 boxes-of citrus fruit. The fruit is sold to raise money for L’Abri en Ville, a committee providing help to the mentally ill.
L’Abri en Ville got its’ start 13 years ago, as an initiative of the Inter-Church Social Service Planning Committee. It seeks to support people living with a mental illness, and provide the services and aid necessary to help these people live a more independent life. L’Abri en Ville sets up apartments for those affected with a mental illness, and puts forth the effort to provide roommates-three per apartment-that could coexist well together.
The money raised by the citrus fruit fundraiser is used towards ameliorating the living circumstances of the mentally ill, and helps provide fun activities and outings that give them a better sense of community and unity within their lives.
One of the women, Marianne Metrakos, a coordinator at L’Abri en Ville, said that while the money goes towards the general funds of the committee, staff salary isn’t an issue.
“We have over 70 volunteers that help us, in the assisted living,” she said.
Metrakos insists that without the generous help of the Stingers, a lot of the income generated by this fundraiser would not exist.
“Before they stepped in, we used to try and unload it ourselves,” she said, “But we’re all getting older, and we just couldn’t anymore.”
“These boys just help out so much, and they’re so strong!” she gushed, “We just couldn’t do this without them.”
The players secured a system of rolling boards, as they have done for many years in the past. With three or four players in the truck, box after box was sent careening down one rolling board, then pushed by another player onto a rolling board that was placed perpendicular. The boxes zig-zagged at mind-numbing speed, cutting corners and rushing past each player, to then be loaded onto trolleys that were unloaded and stacked neatly on the blue mat by the lucky players that remained inside.
Nancy Grayson tip-toed her way on the blue mat through the mass of boxes that were piling up, quietly giving instructions and reassuring smiles.
Grayson is one of the 70 volunteers that donates her time to L’Abri en Ville. As someone who is in the apartment complexes helping the people, she is able to see firsthand what the money and donations could provide for those living independently with a mental illness.
“It helps. It helps a lot,” she emphasized, “A lot of time people with mental illnesses are living in a room by themselves, isolated. We give them a whole community to relate to,” she said.
“We have a lot of activities in that everybody participates in, both residents and volunteers. We go camping in the fall, we have a holiday party. There can be anywhere from 80-100 people,” she said.
“Every penny counts,” she said, “And this has been our only major fundraising to date, so if it weren’t for these guys, none of that stuff would get off the truck.”
Despite the manual labour and less than favourable weather conditions, the players were joking around amongst themselves and not once complained of the situation.
For head coach Kevin Figsby, it’s not only about helping out-it’s about team work.
“When you get the players together doing stuff like that, it’s a great team bonding experience,” he said.
But coach Figsby also stresses to his players how important it is to give back to the community.
“L’Abri en Ville has season tickets to our games,” he said, “It’s the perfect opportunity for us to give back.”
Coach Figsby received a call about eight years ago, saying that the coordinators and volunteers were getting a little older and the task of unloading the truck became harder and harder. He jumped at the opportunity to lend a helping hand.
“Community service is always going to be a big part of our program,” he emphasized.
This year 1,500 boxes of fruit, ranging anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds were unloaded from the truck at record-breaking speed. Making a game out of it makes the job seem less daunting, so every year the Stingers try and beat their own record. Last year, it took them a little over an hour and a half to unload the truck. This year, a break neck one hour and three minutes was the final time needed to get the job done.
“Hockey is a competitive sport-these guys compete, no matter what they’re doing,” he laughed