Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik had a simple message for team employees this holiday season.
After distributing $75 cash to each member of the organization through the Lightning Foundation, Vinik had no desire to get anything back, nor did he have plans of accepting any type of reciprocation.
Rather, Lightning employees were urged to pay it forward.
“We ask that you use that money to purchase gifts for a holiday charity or perhaps a needy family close to their hearts,” Vinik wrote in an office-wide email. “Let's count our collective blessings while helping someone in need.”
The message apparently was received loud and clear.
By a rough estimate, approximately 20-25 different causes were supported by the employee-based initiative, which sought out pretty much everything ranging from homeless shelters, soup kitchens and animal adoption facilities to children’s homes, various church funds and hospitals.
While the response was indeed overwhelming, it was just a small part of an entire company-wide philosophy that prioritizes community involvement and giving back to those in need.
All of it, of course, starts with Vinik.
In addition to continuing the Lightning Community Heroes program in which a recipient at each home game receives $50,000 to donate to their charity of choice, the organization also spearheads the C.H.A.R.G.E. initiative, in which team employees perform acts of service in the community.
In the weeks leading up to the holidays, the likes of Lightning television play-by-play announcer Rick Peckham and the voice of the Lightning Radio, Dave Mishkin, assisted those at Metropolitan Ministries by participating in their holiday food drive. Other employees ventured out to toy collection centers and wrapped gifts, while several also volunteered their time teaching at elementary schools and restoring debilitated houses for inner-city residents.
Collectively, the various acts of goodwill served as a nice precedent to what would turn into making others’ holiday season a little more merry than usual, albeit on a modest budget of $75.
“We were once again very impressed by Mr. Vinik’s commitment to charity in this community,” said Alison Barrick of the Ronald McDonald House of Tampa Bay. “We are very thankful for our friends at the Tampa Bay Lightning, not just during this season of giving, but all year long.”
With several employees opting to donate their $75 to the Ronald McDonald House, the charity was able to ease the cost of operation for each of its 80 bedrooms.
Other charities benefited in different ways, but nonetheless still as much.
According to Jeff Kremer of Big Cat Rescue, the money received from Lightning employees will be put towards a new 2.5 acre enclosure that will help the facility rotate cats in and out of their permanent enclosures. The project is estimated to cost a total of $200,000.
“The new donations will allow us to move forward with this project,” Kremer said. “It is only by working hand-in-hand with like-minded friends such as the Lightning that the sanctuary is able to continue making a positive difference in both the animal as well as human world that we share.”
Employees could contribute the money any way they wanted to. Some put all of it towards one cause, while others simply benefited two charities by splitting the money down the middle and contributing half to each organization.
Then there were those who went above and beyond.
Lightning assistant general manager Julien BriseBois, for example, matched Mr. Vinik’s donation and purchased toys to deliver to Toys For Tots. The team’s video coach, Nigel Kirwan, donated not $75, but rather $100 to the Sparrow Fund at Hyde Park United Methodist Church. The donations collected through the fund are used throughout the year to help families in need whether it be to pay groceries or electric bills.
John Franzone, the Lightning’s vice president of video production and entertainment, pooled the money with the LightningVision team and added an extra $25 to bring the grand total to $250, which they donated to Operation Helping Hand to benefit soldiers and their families at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital.
The team’s director of season ticket membership, Travis Pelleymounter, made a donation in honor of his niece, Kylie, to the March of Dimes. Kylie spent 200 days in the hospital after being born prematurely. Now at two years old, she is doing well after having endured multiple surgeries and trips to the emergency room. According to Pelleymounter, there were doubts that his niece would ever sit up straight, much less walk. She now is able to do both with little difficulty, and just recently was selected to represent March Of Dimes Orlando this year as the 2013 Central Florida March of Dimes Baby Ambassador.
“I can’t thank Mr. Vinik enough for his generosity and the opportunity he gave us all to contribute to a worthy cause,” Pelleymounter said.
Back home in Illinois, the Lightning’s vice president of marketing and brand management Lynn Wittenburg gifted the money to a homeless family that had been in and out of various shelters for the previous two months. They finally got a home just recently thanks to a local charity.
For Wittenburg though, there was a more personal aspect.
The family’s daughter had been a high-school friend of Wittenburg, so to help her and her family out in a tough time of need “was truly a blessing,” she said.
“Everyone I have told is just amazed that we have an owner that would give us such a present,” Wittenburg said. “I think it was more of a blessing for my family than for them.”
Better yet, probably for both.
Charities That Received Donations Are As Follows:
A Kid’s Place
All Children’s Hospital
Big Cat Rescue
Elves For Elders
Friends Of Strays
Hyde Park United Methodist Church
James A. Haley Veterans Hospital
March Of Dimes
Operation Helping Hand
Pediatric Cancer Foundation
Ronald McDonald House
Southeastern Guide Dogs
SPCA of Tampa Bay
St. Jude’s Hospital
Support Our Troops
The Crossing Church
The Humane Society of Tampa Bay
Toys For Tots
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