The Pittsburgh Penguins took some time after practice Tuesday afternoon to visit Dick’s Sporting Goods at The Mall at Robinson to take part in the Salvation Army’s “Project Bundle-Up.”
Every player made an appearance at the event, which was hosted by Dick’s for the fifth straight year. Each player was paired with a local middle school child (or two children in some cases) and helped them pick out new winter clothing as part of the annual “Penguins Personal Shopping Day.”
“It’s great to help the kids and it warms my heart,” said Evgeni Malkin
, who was paired with 10-year-old Brendan. “It’s a great day to help. The kids are a little shy, but it’s a good time for us. Brendan is a good kid. We talked and we had a great time.”
Malkin then turned to Brendan and asked, “We have a great time? Yes?”
Brendan beamed a bright smile and gently nodded his head in affirmation.
“We bought matching hats, a coat, a blue Penguins scarf and gloves,” said Brendan, who added that the highlight of his day was getting to meet the Penguins’ Russian superstar.
Malkin and Brendan posed for pictures wearing their brand-new matching winter hats. Malkin contributed his own money to make sure that he and his partner sported the same look.
“Brendan said this is the new style,” Malkin said. “So I bought it because I like it. Winter is coming and I don’t have a winter hat so I bought two. It’s getting cold now.”
Fighting the cold winter months is why the Salvation helped launch Project Bundle-Up in the first place. Every year children from families that are less fortunate are ensured that they won’t be cold during the long winter. The kids, who were selected by the Salvation Army, are provided with essential winter clothing – jackets, hats, gloves, boots, scarves, etc. – and as an added bonus, they get to pick out their new winter wear with a Penguins player.
“You never want to see anyone have to be in the elements unprotected,” Matt Cooke
said. “Being a father, I know that very well. Helping these kids stay warm is satisfying.
“It makes you recognize that you can’t take things for granted. The opportunity to give back, spend time with these kids and see their emotions and the way they react when we get here, you can’t really speak about it.”
Cooke was paired with Devon, 10. The two had an instant chemistry and chatted non-stop during their shopping spree. In fact, Devon even gave Cooke a short interview at the end of the day (using my microphone) – hitting him with questions like how long have you been a Penguin and have you ever won a trophy.
Devon, who told Cooke that his goal was to play goalie for the Penguins, was happy to get a new stylish grey coat with highlighted green stripes, a color that matched perfectly with his new winter tassel cap.
“(Cooke) convinced me to get the jacket, and I agreed with him,” Devon said. “And the hat (fits).”
Goaltender Brent Johnson
became an instant fan of Project Bundle-Up last season when he went shopping with a kid for the first time. His enthusiasm hasn’t changed at all as he and partner Christopher did a little shopping.
“This is great. It’s a good cause. Helping kids stay warm for the winter is fantastic,” Johnson said. “Christopher helped me out. He let me know what he wanted. It was awesome.
“We got him some great stuff, everything from the toes to the head, even scarves and hats. We got everything, and hopefully this guy is set for the long winter.”
For Christopher, the best part of his day was “getting to spend time with a real Penguin.”
So what did he think of a real Penguin? “He’s cool.”
And it’s not only the kids who think the Penguins are “cool.” The Penguins players are also big fans of their little counterparts.
“The interaction with the kids is awesome,” Cooke said. “You provide an opportunity that they might not otherwise have. To give back and help in the slightest little bit, it’s worth our time.”