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Inside the Sabres: Foundation, players bring holiday smiles

There has been a spirit of giving in Sabreland.

The whole team visited Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Ryan O’Reilly made a private hospital stop. Dozens of volunteers helped feed the homeless in Buffalo. Cody McCormick raised money for impoverished people in Canada. Brian Gionta made sure kids had a seat at a game. Kim Pegula made sure children had a Christmas.

“It’s been an active time,” said Rich Jureller, president of the Sabres Foundation and the team’s director of community relations. “We try and do a lot. The holidays are a special time for everybody.”

Whether it’s a big event or a personal mission, the Sabres have helped out during the festive season. Jureller and his staff provide support in the background.

While the players are on the road or in the midst of three games in four nights, they need someone to make sure their donated suites are filled and upcoming visits are planned. The community relations personnel take of it.

“It makes it a lot easier when you’ve got Rich dealing with the logistics,” said forward Matt Moulson, who donates to Tickets for Troops and the Wounded Warrior program. “People want to work with different charities or different organizations, but you don’t realize the logistics that go into everything. He deals with that and makes sure you keep good relations with the different organizations.”

The Sabres’ foundation typically donates more than $500,000 per year, but the time is invaluable. The players hung out with cancer-stricken children as Christmas approached. Dinner conversations came about at Thanksgiving because 2,300 turkeys were delivered to the Buffalo City Mission and Food Bank of Western New York.

More than 100 families had presents to open because of the team’s Holiday Angels program. Catholic Charities of Buffalo provided names of those who needed help, and people adopted the families and bought gifts.

“Catholic Charities would email you all the information you need to shop,” Jureller said. “We started it last year and I think we had 60 families. We did 113 this year.

“It’s good stuff. There’s a lot of families in need, so it makes a difference.”

Jureller’s desire to give back helps the programs thrive. The Western New York native joined the Sabres in August 2005 and has risen to foundation president.

“He’s the right person for the job,” Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian said. “He’s got a huge heart. He really does care. He cares about us as people, and he cares about the people that we’re going to see.”

Bogosian and Jureller serve as advisers for the Make Lemon Aide Foundation for CP. It’s hard to find a cause that Jureller hasn’t helped. His steadiest job is bringing charitable organizations to games. They sit in suites donated by Gionta, O’Reilly and Bogosian.

“We try to split the wealth,” Jureller said. “We’re getting to the point where we don’t want to start asking someone for a second time.”

Organizations who would like to team up with the Sabres can contact him at rich.jureller@sabres.com. Conversely, Jureller seeks out charities that are close to the players’ hearts. It’s why he was auctioning signed jerseys in the lobby of a theatre while McCormick showed a film that benefited the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund. It’s a charity for First Nations people in rural Canada.

“Anytime a player wants to do something, we’ll support it,” Jureller said. “It’s a responsibility that we have. We ask so much of these guys – Can you do this? Can you go here? Can you help out here? – so when Zach is getting involved with his fundraiser and his foundation, or Ryan wants to go to the hospital, or Cody doing the thing for Gord Downie, it’s anything we can to do to help.

“We try and use all the resources we have. It’s awesome because I love hockey and I love helping people.”

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