Mike and Emily Matheson's hearts sank as they watched the news.
Just a few hundred miles away from their home in Fort Lauderdale, the Bahamas, a beautiful island chain near and dear to their hearts, was being slowly ravaged by Hurricane Dorian. The strongest storm to ever hit the Bahamas, it pelted the islands with devastating wins and rainfall.
Slowing down to roughly 1 mph, the Category 5 storm stalled over the islands for over 24 hours, resulting in extreme flooding that destroyed homes and caused multiple fatalities. In the end, it was reported that 70,000 people were left homeless on Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands.
"When you saw the videos, everything was just demolished or underwater," said Mike, who is entering his fourth full season with the Florida Panthers. "It was so bad that they're having a really hard time getting stuff over there. Our first thought was, 'We'd love to help. What can we do?' We were thinking of doing a donation drive and stuff like that, but it sounded, for the most part, that they've been able to get people to donate stuff. They have a lot of supplies, but the difficulty is just getting it over there and having the money to do that."
That's when, Mike says, a light bulb when off.
With the help of the Panthers, Mike and Emily came up with the idea to use their platform as professional athletes - Emily won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics - to kick start their own fundraising efforts for the Bahamas.
Partnering with UNICEF USA, the couple have pledged to match donations up to $25,000.
"We just want to be able to help as much as we can," Mike said. "We're just really hoping that people feel the same way and give, too. I just want to be able to get it to as many people as possible. The Panthers have been really generous with helping me do that. That's been a big benefit. When you're a little more in the public eye, you need to be able to give back."
Like many in South Florida and beyond, the Bahamas are the site of many special memories.
It was the first place Mike, a native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec, went on vacation with his family - "It was amazing to go there," he says. "Then, many years later in April of 2018, it was the place where he dropped to one knee and proposed to Emily, who he went on to marry this past summer.
"Emily and I both feel like the Bahamas is a special place for us," Mike said.
Help make the Bahamas special again by donating HERE.
All donations, big or small, are appreciated.