DETROIT — Justin Abdelkader made a list and checked it twice. Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk sent their elves out to collect toys. Drew Miller wrapped presents with the help of his wife. Jonathan Ericsson and Brendan Smith wheeled in a pair of pink bicycles. Johan Franzen toted a flatbed cart loaded with holiday gifts.
On Thursday, the Red Wings family opened the Joe Louis Arena doors in an effort to welcome families in need during the holiday season. With 11 players and 10 staff members taking part in the Volunteers of America Adopt-a-Family program, 12 Detroit area families visited the arena for the day.
The families spent the morning watching the Wings practice before convening in the Olympia Room, where they were treated to a pizza party and drinks while waiting for the players to arrive.
One by one, Stephen Weiss, Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and Jonas Gustavsson came into the dining area and spent time with their sponsored families. Each player conversed with the families, shared stories, took pictures and signed autographs before opening a few early Christmas presents.
“I think it’s great,” Miller said. “I think all kids should have the opportunity to have a happy Christmas and to open presents and put that big smile on their face. This is a great opportunity for the Red Wings to have families to give them the opportunity. The part I enjoy is them coming here, getting to open a couple presents with us and seeing their faces and smile, see how happy and excited they are. Give them an opportunity to open some presents on Christmas.”
Miller and his wife, Colleen, spent the afternoon with the Jones family talking about the children’s schools, Detroit sports and trying to explain how a Zamboni works. Johnnie Jones had a difficult time finding the words to express what the experience meant for his family.
“Seeing the smiles on their faces meant a lot,” he said.
Bridgette Turner, her two sons and her brother, Darren, joined the Jones family as well as others who took in the day’s festivities.
“Oh my goodness, we got a lot of excitement,” Bridgette said. “They were really excited because I’ve always seen the players ... but to actually have my family adopted by one of the players for Christmas and to be here and experience a lot of this, this is very, very overwhelming.”
Bridgette’s family was adopted by Abdelkader for the holiday season. He took his time picking out which presents Sylvester and Lepago could open but what one of the boys really wanted, well Justin couldn’t quite deliver.
“Lepago, he was kind of upset because he wanted to actually get on the ice,” Bridgette said. “He said that (the players) were having fun and he had to sit in the chair.”
The families were part of the Volunteers of America Adopt-a-Family program, which has helped more than 162,000 families, children and seniors in southeastern Michigan. The program is an opportunity for individuals, companies and organizations to help families in need, either through direct adoption or financial contribution.
“I think the biggest thing is to see the smiles on their faces,” Miller said. “They got the chance to open a couple presents and they’ve got a bunch more to take home with them. For me, that’s the biggest thing is to see the happiness and appreciation. The kids are really excited.”
To find out more about the Adopt-a-Family program and how to contribute, CLICK HERE.