‘Tis the season for giving back

Audrey Gardner, Staff Writer

‘Tis the season of giving, and for some, it started early. On October 31, 2015, the RMU ACHA DI hockey team took on Pitt in what would be a 6-4 win.

Earlier in the season, assistant coach Conrad Waite began looking into different charities in the area with an interest in doing an event sometime this season. In the end, the club selected Play it Forward, which is a gently-used toy drive based in Pittsburgh.

“As a team and a coaching staff, we’ve been trying to find ways to get more involved in the community. When we saw we had a game on Halloween against Pitt, we knew that would be a good opportunity to do something. A toy drive seemed like an easy thing to put together,” said Waite. ”Plus, we had this great organization in Play it Forward Pittsburgh that we could donate to. Pitt was great in spreading awareness among their players and fans as well. And the guys really bought in.”

The team distributed flyers on campus to promote the event, as well as social media reminders the day of. Fans were encouraged to bring new and gently used toys to the game that evening. All who donated to the cause received free admission, and were entered into a raffle for a chance to win one of three jerseys and other RMU hockey gear.

Item donations consisted of toys, games, books, movies, stuffed animals, and sports equipment for children ages 0-16. The team collected about 225 toys which they would later donate to Play it Forward.

“About five years ago, I was getting rid of some of my own kids’ toys and I wanted to give them to somebody local, as opposed to just dropping them at some anonymous bin. I found a family who was just really struggling, they weren’t on any public assistance, they couldn’t qualify for any other toy drives and I just really wanted to help them,” said Starr Fiedler. “ I talked to Amy Kier the next day, who’s a co-worker, and we decided that lots of people probably have toys that their kids have grown out of. We decided to throw the idea out there and people really caught on to it. It became what it is now in just five years.”

The project got its start in the Propel Braddock Hills High School and has since outgrown the location. Over the last few years, Starr Fiedler and Kier have set up shop in Century III Mall, located in West Mifflin.

Prior to the event, Fiedler and Kier spent about two weeks at Century III, but the planning started in October. Play it Forward had donations come in from across the Pittsburgh area and collection locations were found on the organization’s website.

On Tuesday, December 8th, Waite, Alex Blum, JJ Bond, Cody Brightbill, and Kurt Schmidt dropped off the six boxes of toys. The toys would be sorted and prepared for giveaway, and when doors opened on December 12th Play it Forward was ready to help hundreds of families
Shoppers picked from a variety of toys, stuffed animals and books, which adds up quickly. During the 2014 holiday season, they were able to help about 900 families and an estimated 3,000 children and this year they were hoping for more.

As Play it Forward continues to grow, the Colonials are hoping to be part of it, especially after such a successful drive.

“It was awesome to see our team collect toys at our Halloween game and be able to donate those to families in need. It feels good to be able to help out those in need and it makes you realize how lucky we are to be able to play the game we love on a daily basis,” said Brightbill. “I hope this is just the first of many ways our team gives back to the community. I would like to see us keep the toy drive a tradition and possibly add games to benefit Breast Cancer Awareness and the Wounded Warrior Project in the future.”