A strong defence against hunger

Campaign turns hockey into foodraiser

Shane Nicholls (centre) takes a break at the 2011 Five Hole For Food game with founder Richard Loat (right) and teammate James Mallach. This year, the group hopes to raise 10,000 lbs of food for the Mustard Seed.

Shane Nicholls (centre) takes a break at the 2011 Five Hole For Food game with founder Richard Loat (right) and teammate James Mallach. This year, the group hopes to raise 10,000 lbs of food for the Mustard Seed.

Campaign turns hockey into foodraiser

Shane Nicholls loves hockey. So much so, that he founded the Topaz Hockey League back in 2007. So it was little surprise that when Nicholls heard about the Five Hole For Food campaign, he wanted to help it score a goal in the hearts of Victoria residents.

“My passion is hockey and I love helping out, so this was right up my alley,” says Nicholls. “Getting involved is second nature to me.”

Five Hole for Food is an annual coast-to-coast tour, which turns playing hockey into a way to fight hunger. The event will celebrate its third year in Victoria on Friday, July 20, from 3pm to 7pm at the Saanich Plaza Save On Foods parking lot, and around the country this week with a ball hockey “rink” set up in the heart of each city. Players need only bring a stick and a can of food, and 100 per cent of the proceeds go to local food banks in each city. Mustard Seed is Victoria’s beneficiary, and while 2010 saw 952 lbs of food donated, 2011 more than tripled those numbers with 3,156 lbs. This year, Nicholls says the group is aiming for 10,000 lbs.

“We figure, if everyone brings two cans of food, we’ll be set, but the most important thing is to bring good stuff. When you have to eat a lot of donated canned food, you’re not going to be that happy if all you get is pork and beans,” says Nicholls. “I like canned chili, so I’m going to bring a few boxes of that.”

Nicholls, 29, comes from a family used to helping out around town — his step-dad, Smokin’ Joe Liberatore of Western Speedway demo car racing, has become a fan favourite and earned a name in the community for his charity work.

Nicholls says he used that inspiration to get the Topaz Hockey League involved in a big way. The group donates time and players for the ball hockey rink, and has also worked on getting local sponsors, food donors and even recruiting Marty the Marmot and a few of the Victoria Royals players to make a special appearance.

“Part of the benefit of this being held in a grocery store parking lot is that anyone can just grab an extra can while they are shopping, then come out and play with us if they want to,” says Nicholls. “But if they just want to watch, that’s a lot of fun, too.”

That’s the mission of Richard Loat, founder of Five Hole For Food — the idea that hockey’s power comes down to its fun.

“With all the complications in our world today, people forget how fun and simple it is to just play a game of ball — and how much impact that can have,” Loat says. “It was actually the 2010 Olympics and seeing the impact that hockey game had on Canada that made me realize the potential hockey has for creating community and action in our country.”

Loat hails from Vancouver but was born in the Middle East and says he never even knew what hockey was until he came to Canada at age nine.

“I’ve been a pretty big fan since,” he says.

With the Olympics as evidence, Loat set to work organizing his goal and that same year turned the mission into production for local food banks. The timing of the event has everything to do with making sure people are supplied with food all year round, a sentiment that Nicholls shares.

“A lot of us think about donating to food banks in the darker months, but it’s important to realize that the Mustard Seed and other food banks need help all year,” says Nicholls. “Just because you’re relaxing at the lake doesn’t mean some family’s not starving to death in town.” M

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