Chris Kunitz’s hat trick on March 10 against the Islanders made thousands of Penguins fans at CONSOL Energy Center smile. But the joy spread by Kunitz’s three goals will reach much farther than Pittsburgh’s city limits.
As Kunitz’s third goal tickled the twine, an avalanche of flying sock monkeys – the night’s promotional giveaway presented by Trib Total Media – cascaded onto the arena’s ice, of course accompanied by the customary hats. Those monkeys made the trick all the more unique and even made their way back into the arena in a video package on its scoreboard during Tuesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.
|Behme with one of three bags of hats and sock monkeys that will be distributed as part of Hat Tricks 4 Humanity |
But their exposure will not stop there, as Hat Tricks 4 Humanity, a charity that donates hats thrown during Penguins hat tricks, will distribute the promotional items to less-fortunate children in Kenya.
Mike Behme, the founder of Hat Tricks 4 Humanity who is now a senior at West Allegheny High School, said his aunt’s church takes trips to Kenya, where they sometimes donate the hats and other items tossed on the ice. Behme also gives some items to children involved with sing-alongs at his school district’s elementary schools.
“Last year we gave them the stockings that were thrown, so this year they’ll have more Penguins presents, the sock monkeys,” Behme said.
The children are always excited to receive the hats, but Behme said they treasure unique toys like the monkeys even more.
“Whenever there’s a giveaway of anything we’re always really excited,” Behme said. “The [children] in Africa, that’s really something special. The kids, it’ll probably be the first and only toy they ever have, so I’m sure they’ll be excited about it.”
Hat Tricks 4 Humanity began as a Boy Scouts project Behme thought of to earn his eagle scout badge while a freshman at West Allegheny. In 2009, he came into contact with Ross Miller, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ director of marketing, who was more than willing to take part in the project.
The project was set up without much trouble, Behme said, which instilled even more respect for the Penguins organization in him than he previously had.
“I have much thanks for everyone here,” he said. “It’s great that it’s open to me and that it’s remained open to me for all these years. When everything was really coming in, the private donations and everything, there were people who e-mailed me and asked how I got started so they could start something like this group in their cities.
“All of them said those other teams said ‘no’ for whatever reason, so it really speaks to the Penguins’ moral integrity that they’re able to keep this going.”
That year, Behme was determined to collect 2,500 hats, but blew by that number with 3,906 collected by the end of the 2009-10 season.
Behme said he aimed to “affect a larger base than just my community” than the usual Boy Scouts project. And he has done just that, as the number of hats collected has climbed in recent years. The hat total now stands at 7,201, all of which have been washed, sanitized and restored to near mint condition.
As a senior, it’s coming time for Behme to move on to college, which he plans to attend in Boston. He said he wishes to keep the project active by handing it down to the members of his Boy Scouts troop because he wants it to continue to positively impact lives internationally.
“It always amazes me that there are people who don’t have running water, but know what McDonald’s is, so I’ve always thought that helping people is a really important thing,” he said. “It’s a really uplifting feeling to be able to do this and especially with the ease that I’m able to do it.
“It takes almost no time and the rewards for the people who are the recipients of these, it really means a lot to them.”
Over the past three years, Behme has enjoyed some personal time with the people he has aided. He spoke of one specifically, when he visited Auberle, a troubled youth home in McKeesport. He distributed the hats and said the younger children “really connected with the kindness that was basically from nowhere.”
“Maybe they didn’t ask for [help], but they were willing to let us reach out to them,” he said. “So, being able to talk to them was really cool for me.”
While Behme deserves thanks, he wanted to say thank you to Kunitz, for more reasons than one.
“I would say thank you for being so darn good at hockey, we really appreciate it not only for the hats, but for the wins too,” he said. “But his hat trick meant more than just to the city of Pittsburgh. It’ll also affect some little kid in a village in Africa.”