Generous sailors reach out to local charities

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Lifestyle - Life at Sea / April 21, 2016

By Darlene Blakeley

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is a professional war-fighting service, but its sailors have a generous side that is well known across the country and manifests itself in the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised each year for charity.

From national health institutions to the smallest local charity, both military and civilian members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) raise funds in a variety of ways that are limited only by their imaginations. Groups such as the Children’s Wish Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and Boomer’s Legacy, as well as building projects, support to orphanages abroad, and many other humanitarian organizations benefit from the unqualified support of the RCN.

The end result is a huge sense of personal satisfaction and a strengthening of the bond between naval personnel and their communities.

Run the Rock

In Newfoundland and Labrador for example, 15 crew members from Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) St. John’s run along the TransCanada highway each year from Port Aux Basques to St. John’s to raise funds and awareness for the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Chapter. This year marks the 21st anniversary of Run the Rock, and over the years more than $700,000 has been raised.

“We are actively engaged with the Children’s Wish Foundation throughout the year and especially during the run,” says Lieutenant (Navy) Chris Gabriel, Logistics Officer in HMCS St. John’s and organizer of this year’s event. “Normally, we are lucky enough to meet several Wish Kids during the run. We also get regular updates from the charity when Wish Kids have been granted wishes.”

Lt(N) Gabriel adds that over the past two decades, the event has become a mainstay in Newfoundland and the residents look forward to seeing crew members every summer. “It’s important to the people of Newfoundland because it provides an opportunity for all corners of the island to meet and interact with those who serve aboard HMCS St. John’s. It is equally important to the Children’s Wish Foundation, Newfoundland and Labrador Chapter, because Run the Rock provides support to their cause, which ultimately provides wishes to children who have life-threatening illnesses. This community outreach serves the RCN, I believe, in a very positive way and, in turn, allows the people of Newfoundland the opportunity to see their navy and meet the amazing people who serve.”

This year’s Run the Rock will be held from June 15-30, and HMCS St. John’s is expected to be in its namesake city to welcome the runners when they finish the event.

The Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre

All 12 Halifax-class frigates in the RCN are named after Canadian cities. The relationship they forge with their namesake cities is one that is treasured by the ships’ companies. Visits are often conducted by crew members, serving to promote the RCN within the community, but more importantly to provide service and support to various local organizations.

For example, while visiting Ottawa in late 2015, crew members from HMCS Ottawa visited the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre, volunteered their time at the Ottawa Mission Homeless Shelter and Salvation Army Grace Manor, spent time with young Sea Cadets and Scout Troops, gave talks to elementary and high school students, and visited the mayor’s office.

“HMCS Ottawa and its crew felt it was very important to give back to the community our name represents,” says Lt(N) Jeff Benson, Information Management Director in Ottawa. “The ship wishes to strengthen the ties and bonds to the people living within these communities, who may not have any exposure to the RCN.”

This year, HMCS Ottawa will focus its fundraising efforts on the Perley Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation, a natural fit for the warship.

“HMCS Ottawa is privileged to honour the brave men and women who have served before us in defence of our great country, by helping to raise funds in support of the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation,” says Commander Sylvain Belair, Commanding Officer of the ship and a native of Ottawa. “There truly is no greater sacrifice for one’s country than the sacrifice that these outstanding Canadians have endured for the peace and freedom that generations have come to know and enjoy. It’s our team’s small but respectful way of showing our deepest appreciation and gratitude for their service.”

The crew raises money for charity in a wide variety of ways, including poker tournaments, an auction for a night of relaxation watching movies in the Captain’s cabin while the ship is at sea, and an auction for using the Executive Officer’s prime parking space for a week.

The ship’s crew is determined to keep coming up with new and interesting ways to raise money for the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation, and their effort is certainly appreciated.

“The support of HMCS Ottawa strengthens the connection between Canadians who continue to serve their country on active duty and the many veterans who call the Perley Rideau home,” says Daniel Clapin, Executive Director of the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre Foundation. “It’s wonderful that Cdr Belair and his crew have chosen to keep this link alive and to support the exceptional quality of care we deliver.”

Turkey fundraiser

On the West Coast, divers from Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) (FDU(P)) have conducted a Navy Diver Turkey Fundraiser in support of the Westshore Christmas Hamper Fund Society (WSCHFS) for the past five years, and another is planned for this year. This past December, participants covered a combined total of approximately 1,200 kilometres, the distance between Victoria and Edmonton, on stationary gym equipment. Eight divers cycled continuously on stationary bicycles for the duration of the event, while a diver in a bomb suit jogged on a treadmill, and another diver cycled inside a 3,000 gallon dive tank.

So far the unit has raised more than $100,000 for the WSCHFS.

“Prior to commencing the Annual Turkey Fundraiser in 2010, several members of FDU(P) had volunteered their own time delivering hampers for the WSCHFS to support less fortunate families during the Christmas season,” explains Lt(N) Greg Oikle, Executive Officer, FDU(P). “It was through this initial involvement that volunteers learned the WSCHFS required additional funds and support to be able to provide families with turkeys for Christmas dinner. As FDU(P) is located in Colwood, B.C., and many of the members of FDU(P) live in Westshore communities, it was decided that the unit would raise funds in support of this great cause with the goal of putting a turkey on every table.”

Last year, 650 families who might not have had one otherwise, received a turkey for their Christmas dinner.

Providing support to the WSCHFS is widely embraced by the members of FDU(P), according to Lt(N) Oickle. “There is a great deal of pride in the support we are able to provide to local families through the WSCHFS.”

He says the fundraising campaign takes place throughout the year and involves a great deal of effort to plan, coordinate and carry out each of the different fundraisers. Along with the annual Turkey Fundraiser, events include such things as Dress with a Difference, where members pay a small fee to wear civilian clothing instead of their uniforms to work on designated days, and soup days, where members provide soup or purchase soup during the morning “stand easy” or break time. They also have an ongoing recycling program where members bring in refundable recycling from home throughout the year, along with an annual bottle drive throughout the Westshore communities.

The big hearts and outreach efforts of both military and civilian members of the RCN have greatly enhanced the relationships between the navy and Canadian communities, whether on the coasts or inland. The payback is both personal satisfaction and a sense of teamwork as worthwhile charitable organizations across the country benefit from these strong bonds.