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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins

Christmas came early for 34 children Tuesday, thanks to Project Bundle-Up and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The team held its annual Penguins Personal Shopping Day at the Sears store at Ross Park Mall in conjunction with Project Bundle-Up, a joint effort between the Salvation Army and WTAE-TV. A total of 34 children from the Tarentum area each received $100 worth of winter clothing thanks to the Salvation Army. The best part for the children – they got to shop for an hour with Penguins players, who helped pick out new winter attire for every child.

The end result: lots of warm clothes and tons of smiles.

“It’s a win-win-win event,” said Cindy Himes, the Penguins director of public and community relations. “It’s a win for the team. It’s a win for the Salvation Army and it’s especially a win for the kids because it’s like Christmas in October.

“The special part of this event is that the kids are so excited to shop with these guys not because they’re athletes or hockey players, but because they are nice young men who took the afternoon to help them buy nice winter clothes. That’s what makes it so special.”

The children – and the players – were overly thrilled to spend time together.

“It’s a great thing. It’s something that directly helps these guys,” said Penguins forward John LeClair, who escorted two little boys around the store. “It was nice to spend some time to meet them. A lot of times when you do charity stuff, you don’t see directly who it affects. There were a lot of good kids out here. It was a really, really great event. Anytime a kid smiles, it’s fun.”

Rookie Sidney Crosby, the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, had the chance to shop with Damen, a 9-year-old from Natrona Heights.

“It was good. You don’t always have the opportunity to do this kind of thing. To be able to take them around and let them have the choice of what they want. Especially with winter coming up, it was important that they got some good clothes and we did that,” Crosby said. “This is something that’s new for me, but it’s a great idea. You don’t realize that not everyone has the luxury of getting stuff like this so it’s a big deal for these kids to get this stuff. It’s important; they need the proper stuff for winter. It was just nice to spend time with them and see that they’re happy and get the things they need.”

Damen can’t wait to tell his fourth grade class at Fawn Elementary about his afternoon with Crosby.

“It was fun,” Damen said. “He had an accent that was from Canada.”

But, will his classmates believe him?

“Yeah because I got his autograph,” Damen said with a smile.

One of the items Crosby helped Damen pick out was a knit pull-over hat – known as a “toque” to Crosby in his native Canada.

“That’s what he said it was. That’s a funny word,” Damen said. “I might tell that to my English teacher.”

While Crosby helped pick out Damen’s clothes, the youngster has some fashion advice for Crosby.

“I think he needs a haircut,” Damen said. “I don’t know. I just think he needs a haircut.”

“I don’t know. I guess my hair is pretty bad I guess,” Crosby said with a laugh. “That’s funny. He was good. It was fun getting to meet him. Just to see how happy all the kids were – it was a good day.”

Penguins forward Andre Roy enjoyed himself as well. Waiting at the checkout counter with the two little girls he helped on the afternoon, he pushed around a cart with one of the girls in it while he made car sound effects.

“It was great. I got the chance to have two kids and it was a great experience. It was a fun day for the kids and even for our guys,” he said. “I love kids. I love playing with them and fooling around. It was just fun to get them and see them smile. Overall, it was a great day for them and us.”

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