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"Favorites" baskets to help kids in need

by Alison Lukan / Columbus Blue Jackets

Ashleigh McElhinney, wife of Blue Jackets goaltender Curtis McElhinney, is so committed to helping children smile that she built a library.

It’s not a full-size library. It’s a “Free Little Library,” which is a container that houses books and serves as the hub for neighborhood-based book exchanges. The McElhinneys first encountered the idea when they spent their summers in Colorado, and have now put one in place at their Columbus home.

Ashleigh has built another one to share a bit of the family’s history and demonstrate Curtis’ love of reading for this year’s “Blue Jackets Favorites Basket Auction and Raffle.”

Just like the McElhinneys, each of the Lady Jackets – wives and girlfriends of players, coaches and team personnel – have been hard at work putting together personalized baskets that will be auctioned off starting Saturday through the second intermission of the Blue Jackets game on Dec 19.

Each basket offers insight into the player or coach, but there’s also a bigger purpose at work, and that’s to raise money for the KidSMILES Pediatric Dental Clinic, a volunteer-led, non-profit dental clinic that provides affordable dental care and education to central Ohio families.

Julie Homon, one of the co-founders of KidSMILES, told BlueJackets.com that for too many families facing financial challenges or a lack of adequate insurance, dental care can be one of the first expenses that is eliminated.

Couple that with the fact that dental care can sometimes be a scary, or perhaps painful, experience and it can be that much harder to encourage children to take care of their dental health.

And that’s where the Lady Jackets come in.

In December 2012, KidSMILES opened their clinic where a visit costs just $10 for qualified families.

“(The clinic) is pretty,” Homon said. “But especially for our younger audience it’s not very exciting to look at. The Lady Jackets visited a few months ago and said they felt like they could make our space more child-friendly.”

Homon said she was instantly blown away by the creativity of the women as far as what ideas they had for the clinic -- and it’s not just about appearances, it’s about turning what can be a nervous experience into a positive one with a long-lasting impact.

“If the patients have a good experience here and they think of it as fun and positive, that’s going to help them want to take care of their teeth,” Homon said. “A visit can be rough, (a more pleasant environment) will make visits easier and you’re shaping their mind frame about dentistry for the rest of their lives.”

It’s the idea of healthy smiles and children’s happiness that motivated Lady Jackets like Olga Bobrovsky to make this year’s basket extra special.

In past years, the Bobrovskys have shared items reflecting their Russian heritage, but this year, Olga is sharing some of the couple’s favorite things stocked under a very special tree.

Olga decorated a Christmas tree similar to the way she decorates her personal tree at home. Hanging on the tree are ornaments that her husband, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, asked his teammates to autograph.

“I think that hockey fans will admire these things because they will have all the team (on one tree),” Olga said.

Under the tree are Olga’s favorite champagne, Sergei’s favorite chocolates, and an embossed edition of Sergei’s favorite book, “The Count of Monte Cristo.”

There are hockey items in the baskets, too, including game tickets, jerseys, gloves -- but it’s the look outside of the game that is equally special to Cody Goloubef’s girlfriend.

“There’s so much more to the players beyond (what you see on) the ice,” Allie Fischer said. “This is a cool opportunity and we have fun doing it.”

To that end, Fischer and Goloubef decided to have a little fun with this year’s favorites.

There are crossword puzzles – something the couple enjoys – and items from Goloubef’s favorite stores. There’s even an Oakley backpack, something Goloubef takes with him on the road.

But, with the defenseman suffering a broken jaw in late November, there’s also a cooler with “jaw recovery items” like Ensure, Boost, Campbell’s soup, Motts applesauce and a gift card to a local juice store.

“We’re just trying to make light of a bad situation,” Fischer said.

But at the end of the day, it’s still all about the smiles. Fischer was among the group that visited KidSMILES and called the clinic and what they are doing “incredible.”

When the auction is complete, the group will get to work planning out exactly what they will do for the clinic, and both the Lady Jackets and Homon can’t wait to see the impact.

“Making it appealing to the younger kids is really going to benefit them,” Homon said. “Those are things we haven’t been able to do and really didn’t have anyone in our court to help with something like that. Then you find this group that comes in so excited to do that extra special thing for these kids – it’s been wonderful.”

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