When it comes down to it, there is no better deserving Blue Jackets player to be named the team's Community MVP this season than Cam Atkinson.
From his creation of the Force Network Fund that has donated more than $300,000 to support military and first responders to his integral part in the creation of the Battery Hockey Academy to help central Ohio kids become all they can in the sport of hockey, Atkinson has been a longtime supporter of the Columbus community that he's chosen to call home.
And he hasn't let the pandemic stop him. For example, when life was interrupted and so many things were shut down last spring, Atkinson was searching for a way to support the community. Enter the Force Network Fund virtual 5K, which was held over a weekend in June and encouraged people to get out and undertake some physical activity in the midst of a tough time.
Not only that, the event was created to help OhioHealth Riverside Hospital in its purchase of a rapid-response COVID-19 testing device. In all, hundreds of CBJ fans, not to mention fellow players and media members, took part in the run that raised $40,313 for the hospital where Atkinson's two sons were born.
"It was just a no-brainer," Atkinson said at the time. "We knew that we wanted to give back something related to COVID, especially with all the health-care workers, nurses and doctors that are on the front lines putting their health at risk, their lives at risk in order to keep all of us safe and healthy.
"My wife gave birth to both of our boys at Riverside, so it's something that touches home. We'll have this state-of-the-art equipment that is going to give Riverside the chance for quick, accurate results, which has been the biggest issue. People go and wait in line and they don't get their test results back for a couple of days. This, you go in and get tested and you'll get your results the same day, typically within an hour and a half."
As one notices, many of Atkinson's charitable endeavors have a few things in common. They're focused on the central Ohio community in many cases, and there's often a tie to our military or first responders. For example, the mission of the FNF is to identify and provide financial assistance to the very best military and first responder charitable organizations.
"I chose those two specific areas because they allow us to do what we do on a regular basis and allow us to live with freedom and go about our business and allow us to live in peace," Atkinson said. "Without them, we wouldn't be able to. I think that's very important. I obviously have family members in the military and first responders, so it's a win-win."
Atkinson also hosts military families each year to a game at Nationwide Arena, a welcome respite for families that often could use a fun night while an integral part of the family is serving our country overseas.
In December 2019, Atkinson and his wife Natalie traveled to London, Ohio, for the city's annual Olde Fashioned Christmas celebration with gifts in tow. Four families from Madison County with servicemembers deployed overseas received not just a visit from the Atkinson family but a bushel of gifts to place under the tree for Christmas morning. Those families then also had the chance to attend a Blue Jackets game the next month in a suite.
Video: Atkinson, Blue Jackets support military families
"It was shocking," London resident Amanda Hale, who has three kids and whose husband was in the Army and deployed overseas at the time, said at the game. "I didn't know about it, so I showed up and they came over and found me and told me he was there, and I actually cried. It was really awesome. It just felt like someone cared."
It's something Atkinson did again this past winter, with he and Natalie adopting four local families who had loved ones preparing to leave for deployment over the holidays. The Atkinsons collected the kids wish lists, purchased gifts, and had them delivered to the families by USO Ohio. Additionally, the Atkinsons recorded a personal message to each deployed airmen and their family in appreciation for their service and invited the families to a game after their deployment.
In addition, during the Blue Jackets Military Appreciation Night last month, Cam presented the USO Ohio with a check for $5,013 to help support sending military kids to summer camp through Operation Military Kids.
For years, Atkinson has done what he could to enrich the Columbus community. For continuing to do it even in a tough time, the longtime CBJ winger is the team's 2021 Community MVP.