SUNRISE, Fla. - When it comes to lending a helping hand in their local community, the Florida Panthers recently kicked things up a notch, resorting to literally giving away a large amount of clothing off of the collective backs of their arena staff.
As part of last month's NHL Green Week, the Panthers dove deep into their storage closets, donating a surplus of unused vests and uniforms to Project Linus, which will repurpose the garments into a wide variety of homemade comfort blankets for local children in need.
"I figured there was somehow, someway we could figure out how to use or donate the clothing in some manner," Panthers Director of Event Operations and Security Tom Embrey said. "The clothes probably sat in a closet for close to five years. But this year we had an intern, Ariel, who had done work with Project Linus in the past. That's how it all came to be."
Florida's donation included approximately 500 assorted vests and polo shirts.
"I come from a blue-collar family where you learn to use everything," said Embrey, a native of Johnstown, Penn. "You don't throw anything away because somebody else can always use it. I just held on to these things until we finally found the right opportunity.
"We've also gotten the word out to the rest of our staff that if they have old clothing items that, instead of donating them or just throwing them out, they should give them to Project Linus so that they can repurpose them for their own initiatives."
With chapters in all 50 states, including 13 in the state of Florida, Project Linus distributes blankets to children in hospitals, shelters, social service agencies, or simply anywhere that a child is in need of some extra comfort.
The blankets, which come in variety of different sizes but typically measure 40" x 60", can be knitted, crocheted, quilted or hand-tied, with each and every single one being handcrafted by the organization's dedicated base of volunteers.
"I've made hundreds and hundreds of quilts for Project Linus," said Francine Plaza, a member of the organization's South Florida chapter. "When people ask me how long it takes me to make a quilt, I say '72 years,' because that's how old I am. I get to work on anything that whimsically comes into my mind. I worked very hard my entire life in a totally different field, but I do this because I love it."
A cancer survivor, Plaza says that she was able to evolve from an average quilter into a blanket-making machine while using sewing as a form of rehab during her long recovery from leukemia.
"They wanted me to do occupational therapy to regain the strength in my hands," said Plaza, who has been cancer-free for 14 years. "I had knowledge of sewing, so I thought that I maybe I should make a quilt. The work they had me doing, like turning screws, seemed like a shortcut to insanity, so I made a quilt and it turned out pretty nice. After that, I made more and more quilts and decided that I really liked.
"Even though I'm no longer in the hospital, and I'm grateful every day that I'm not, I think about all of the children that I know are in struggling in hospitals. In a way, creating these quilts is my way of giving back."
NHL Green Week, which ran from March 12-18, gave teams around the league the opportunity to showcase both their eco-friendly programs and diverse community initiatives as a means of reducing the league's environmental impact and improving local communities.
"The efforts we make today toward a more sustainable planet will impact not only our sport but future generations," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "All of our clubs support NHL Green environmental programs, and NHL Green Week is an important initiative to create even more attention for, and awareness of, this critical priority for the National Hockey League."
In addition to their work with Project Linus, the Panthers also had three other initiatives for Green Week, including the recycling and repurposing used hockey gear, the installation of solar panels atop the BB&T Center, and a special Panther Conservation Night.
If you have fabric you would like to donate, please visit ProjectLinus.org.