The New York Rangers continued a 13-season tradition last week, partnering with the United States Marine Corps's Toys for Tots program to conduct the annual Holiday Toy Drive, which was held for the second straight year at The Pond at Bryant Park.
In exchange for an unwrapped gift, more than 600 fans in attendance on Dec. 6 had the opportunity to meet, take pictures with, and get autographs from current Rangers Matt Cullen, Adam Hall, Ryan Hollweg, Jed Ortmeyer, Aaron Ward, Kevin Weekes and Rangers legend Adam Graves.
More than 2,000 toys were collected for Toys for Tots, a program whose mission is to collect new, unwrapped toys each year, and distribute them as Christmas gifts to needy children in the local community.
The Dec. 6 Toy Drive was such a success, that the Rangers will join forces with the Marines and Toys for Tots again on Dec. 19 to collect more toys from fans attending the team's home game against the Islanders that night.
Fans bringing a toy to the Dec. 19 game can drop it off The Garden's mall area prior to the start of the game and into the first period. Although no players will be appear at this second toy drive, fans donating toys will receive an autographed photo card featuring one of several former Rangers stars who signed in advance of the event.
"It's a good time of the year and everyone is in a pretty good mood," said Rangers defenseman Ward, who is playing his first season in New York. "Obviously, with the cold weather outside they are exercising a lot of patience, but it's a good cause. The Rangers every year are involved with Toys for Tots, and it's great for hockey players to lend their time and get involved also."
The Rangers players appeared at the Dec. 6 toy drive in three shifts, with Graves on hand throughout the three-hour signing window.
"Essentially, it's one of those traditional things that everyone enjoys being a part of," said Graves. "It's a collective effort from obviously the team and all the fans and supporters, who come to give toys for the kids. Everyone enjoys the atmosphere and the music that is played. And to look out into that line of people standing out in the cold, and to see young kids with their dads and moms, that is what the holiday season is all about. For me, it's one of those times of year I always look foward to. At the same time, all the kids who otherwise wouldn't get a toy under the tree will be the ones that benefit."
Cullen and Ward were the first to sign, followed by Weekes and Hall in the second group, and Ortmeyer and Hollweg to close out the evening.
"I think it's a great program and it's obviously its always nice to get involved, especially during the holiday season," said Weekes. "It's another example of a team and organization of players just trying to connect with the community and reaching beyond the playing surface, and I think that's awesome. It just goes to show that teamwork isn't limited to our respected sports. It shows that in the community, more importantly, teamwork is even more important than it is on the ice, and it has so much value. Everybody deserves to have something at the holidays regardless of which one you celebrate, so it's always nice for the kids to have something to look forward to."
Rangers fan Bryan Polhill and his 7-year-old son, Graham, said they welcomed the opportunity to lend a helping hand to the community.
"Every year we try to get out and do something, serve some food or bring some teddy bears to people," said Bryan. "Today we brought a radio-control truck and a Barbie doll. We've waited for an hour or so, but it's been great and not too cold! But like I said, every year we try to do something and this is a little bonus that we get to meet a couple of Rangers."
While waiting in line, the fans had the opportunity to answer trivia questions for autographed items such as pucks, sticks, player cards and gift packs.
"It's great to get the fans involved, too," said Hollweg. "It's something they are really excited about doing, especially for the kids, and it's great for them to have the opportunity and spend a little time with us and see that we are normal people who like to have fun. In the end, I think its great for us to be able to give back and help out in this manner. There are people that are unfortunately unable to enjoy things like we are, so it's great to be thankful for it, and we like to help out anyway we can."
For more information on all Rangers events in the community, including the upcoming Toy Drive on Dec. 19, click here