RIVIERA BEACH, FL - In honor of Purple Heart Day, the Florida Panthers teamed up with former Community Champion Soldiers' Angels to donate and serve lunch to more than 100 courageous veterans at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center on Wednesday afternoon.
"To have an event like this at the hospital is fantastic," West Palm VA Medical Center Public Affairs Officer Kenita D. Tills told FloridaPanthers.com. "It just brings a sense of lightness and happiness to people that are here for healthcare needs.
"People don't usually come to a hospital because they're 100 percent OK. They're here because they need something. They need to feel well. To have someone come to visit and pay respect to veterans on a day they might not be feeling their greatest, it's priceless."
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., more than a dozen members of Florida's staff, a group that included employees from various different departments within the Panthers, served sandwiches, sides, drinks and more from a buffet to a long line of hungry, happy veterans and hospital workers.
"We're ecstatic to bring some joy to our veterans receiving care here today," Tills said. The event also marked the second time the Panthers have partnered with Soldiers' Angels.
Awarded a $21,750 Community Champions Grant from the Florida Panthers Foundation back in November, Soldiers' Angels previously used part of that donation to distribute hygiene kits - kits packed by Panthers volunteers -- and blankets to VA Hospitals in West Palm Beach and Miami.
Launched prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, the Florida Panthers Foundation awards one Community Champions grant to a charitable organization at each of the team's 41 home games.
Presented by Moss & Associates, LLC and the Moss Foundation, the Community Champions Grant program is committed to donating a total of $5 million over five seasons to local charities.
"We're very honored to be here today at the West Palm Beach VA with the Florida Panthers," Soldiers' Angels Vice President of Development Jennifer Cernoch. "We received a grant, one of your community grants. This is a way for us to give back and work with all of you from the Panthers, to volunteer. We're so excited that they're here and allow us to serve these veterans."
Founded in 2003, Soldiers' Angels aims to dispense aid and comfort to the men and women of the United States Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guards and their families. According to their website, the organization succeeded in providing more than $17 million in total aid in 2017.
Having already received a financial commitment from the Panthers in the past, Cernoch said what impressed her most on Wednesday was the team's continued dedication to volunteering.
Video: National Purple Heart Day Veterans Luncheon
"Lots of staff volunteers. Such wonderful support from the Florida panthers, always," Cernoch said. "The staff, the ROAR Corps, the mascots, the management, everybody comes out to say thank you. They took time out of their day to be here, and that means a lot. Not just to Soldiers' Angels, but to these veterans. To know that the community supports them, that's important."
In volunteering at these VA Medical Hospitals, the Panthers are also able to reconnect with many of the military heroes that are honored throughout the year through the organization's "Heroes Among Us" program, which has celebrated more than 200 veterans since inception.
"That program has taken on a life of its own," Panthers Community Relations Coordinator Matt Smith said. "To be able to expand that outreach to veterans, beyond what the fans see during games, is important to us. We want to make sure that we're assisting veterans outside of the arena and in other ways like at today's event."
Smith said he was proud to see how many Panthers staff members volunteered for the event.
"A lot of time you're sitting at a desk and sending emails and you don't really understand the impact you can make," Smith said. "When we sent this out to our staff, they were all about it. It's very near and dear to our heart to celebrate veterans. Not only because there's so many that work for the organization, but so that these veterans know that we're here for them."