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FEATURE: Oilers shake up the happiness with Shirts Off Our Backs

A fan favourite, Oil Country continues the seasonal tradition of giving to help raise funds for the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton

by Meg Tilley /

Video: COMMUNITY | Shirts off our Backs

After all this time, it's still a feeling Daisy Aw will never forget. 

"So much excitement," she said, smiling from ear-to-ear as she recalled the day her family would receive a food hamper from the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton when she was a little girl.

"My favourite thing was the Mandarin oranges in there. I used to get so excited and go straight for them. It was just a normal thing for us and it was something that brought my family so much joy and something to look forward to for my mom."

New to Canada, Aw's mother, Nancy Lim, faced some hardships that forced the single mother to return to the workplace in order to continue supporting her two- and five-year-old kids.

"She had no savings, no relatives here and had to figure out how she was going to get a job with no work experience and really broken English," Aw explained.

The Christmas Bureau of Edmonton became a pivotal player for the Aw family during the holiday season and continues to do so for many families across Alberta's capital city.

Established in 1940, the not-for-profit organization is in its 77th year providing a festive meal to Edmontonians in need at Christmas time through the promotion of the spirit of Christmas caring and sharing.

"The numbers grow every year, unfortunately, and this year we expect to feed 60,000 people, which is about 23,000 households in the City of Edmonton that just can't make it through Christmas without a little support from the community," said Darlene Kowalchuk, Executive Director of the Christmas Bureau.

Continuing the traditional spirit of giving, the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation's (EOCF's) Shirts Off Our Backs presented by Rogers returned to Rogers Place, Monday night.

The annual holiday initiative not only provided fans with the unique opportunity to win an autographed Oilers jersey but net proceeds raised will benefit the EOCF and the Christmas Bureau of Edmonton.

"It's an amazing relationship and we're truly grateful for it," said Kowalchuk.

"Not only does it bring in a lot of resources for us to be able to provide a festive meal for Edmontonians in need but it brings in an opportunity for us to reach an audience that may not know about us, may not know about the need in the City of Edmonton. It's an amazing relationship that we're truly grateful for. I can't say enough about it, I can't say thank you enough to the Edmonton Oilers and the [EOCF] for their support."

Fans were in high spirits as they purchased raffle tickets from the Oilers Ladies that were stationed around the concourses. Those in attendance would see if their ticket was one of the lucky few that was drawn, which would earn them a spot on the ice post-game to receive an autographed jersey from the corresponding player.

The Oilers Ladies have been part of the Christmas Bureau team as honorary co-chairs, alongside Oilers Alumni Kevin Lowe, and part of the Shirts Off Our Backs initiative since 2003. 

"The Edmonton Oilers fans are the best," said Francesca Vangel, fiancé of Oilers forward Patrick Maroon. "They're always here to help out, always supporting the guys [and helping the] guys support people throughout Edmonton, it's great."

According to Kowalchuk, based on the EOCF's annual fundraiser alone, roughly 1,400 families will receive a festive meal because of the support of the community at Rogers Place buying tickets for the Shirts Off Our Backs event.

"We have a lot of stories like Daisy's, where people have received support from us in the past and are giving back through either being donors, volunteers [or holding] fundraisers," said Kowalchuk.

Looking to give back to those that helped her family, Aw has been actively volunteering with the Christmas initiative for the past 14 years, helping to pack, deliver and raise funds for food hampers each year.

"When I was old enough to realize what the kindness of strangers had done for my family I knew I wanted to do the same thing and give back," said the 36-year-old.

"A festive meal is something that I feel everybody deserves, no matter what your denomination is, what your beliefs are, your race, and it's something that people look forward to but unfortunately not everybody can have.

"Getting the festive food hampers from the Christmas Bureau made a huge impact for us. It was something that brought so much joy to our house, it made the holidays a special time of year, it made my mom realize she wasn't alone."

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