The Santa Rosa Junior College Hockey team may be busy this season working hard to return to postseason play, but that doesn’t mean the Polar Bears have forgotten what is most important this time of year.
Throughout the holiday season, players and staff volunteered numerous places around Sonoma County to show continued appreciation to their gracious and supportive community. The Polar Bears started volunteering shortly after Thanksgiving and continued each week until Christmas, helping several different organizations.
SRJC kicked off the team’s month of giving back by ringing bells for donations for The Salvation Army. Five members of the team volunteered consecutive weekends, including the day of the Polar Bear’s final home match Dec. 6. The donations raised from ringing bells help support The Salvation Army’s efforts to feed the hungry, house the homeless and free people from addiction.
Inspired by the team’s Thanksgiving food drive in early November, several staff members assisted with various community drives benefitting the Redwood Empire Food Bank and SF-Marin Food Bank. They also shopped for presents to donate to the Forestville Fire Station’s Toys for Tots.
As it got closer to the Christmas holiday, the entire team volunteered with the Sonoma County’s Secret Santa Program. A partnership effort of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County, the Secret Santa Program provides holiday gifts for families in need. SRJC players spent three days wrapping numerous gifts for the program, getting into the holiday spirit and continuing the team’s long-standing tradition of giving back.
"Our players are all very fortunate to have the ability and resources to attend our great school and play hockey at this level,” said General Manager Tom Billeter, who volunteered as a bell ringer this season. “We use the holidays as a time to reflect on that fortune and ask all players to volunteer in the community during that time. We're delighted to say this is our fourth season of having 100 percent of our players volunteer during the holiday break; I'm very proud of our players for this."
While the team amplified its philanthropic efforts over the last month, SRJC dedicates a large part of its off-ice time to giving back each season. So far, in the first half of the 2014-15 campaign, the Polar Bears have hosted a Breast Cancer Awareness game, Military Appreciation night and held a canned food drive for Thanksgiving. In the past, SRJC has also hosted a Toys for Tots fundraiser and blood donation drive.
“It is great to be able to give back to the community, and help out as a team to show how much we appreciate what they do for us,” said defensemen Niklis Nisja. “We try to help out whenever we can, not just around the holidays. We are very fortunate to do what we do, and realize the difference we can make off the ice.”