The tales of courage and kindness featured on news broadcasts during the coronavirus pandemic resonated with Jeff Skinner.
Skinner, a 27-year-old winger for the Buffalo Sabres, wondered how he could help those impacted by the public health crisis.
He took action over the past week by making three separate $53,000 donations – a reference to his jersey number, 53 – to Covid-19 related causes in Buffalo; his hometown, Markham, Ont.; and Kitchener, Ont., the city in which he was a junior hockey star.
His first contribution went to the relief fund created by Pegula Sports and Entertainment. Then, Skinner chose to assist Markham Stouffville Hospital, and the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers announced Tuesday their former star forward made a donation that will provide more than 150,000 meals to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.
"It’s obviously a shock to the system for everyone, but I’m in a fortunate position that I can help out in a way," Skinner told The Buffalo News. "It causes a lot of time for reflection and what you can be grateful for. Obviously watching the news and seeing what’s going on, there’s a lot of great stories out there amidst the crisis and some great kindness and courage stories about humanity. For me, I think you pause and be grateful for what you have. From there, you look to help any way you can."
Skinner wanted to help the communities that helped him become a two-time All-Star in the National Hockey League. His first donation came approximately one week after PSE announced it was partnering with the Bills and Sabres foundations to make an initial $1.2 million donation to help with Covid-19 relief in Western New York.
In addition to providing aid to front-line health care workers, the money was to be distributed to a number of organizations, including FeedMore WNY, Rural Outreach Center and the newly formed Western New York COVID-19 Community Response Fund.
Skinner, who played his first eight NHL seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, signed an eight-year, $72 million contract with the Sabres last June after being traded to Buffalo before the 2018-19 season. He was named an All-Star and scored a career-high 40 goals during his first season with the Sabres.
"Buffalo is where I live," said Skinner, listing the reasons why he chose to help in Western New York. "Being a Sabre and what that means to the community, seeing what the Pegulas kickstarted. To jump on board and be part of that was a good opportunity for me to contribute there.
"I was born in Toronto, but I grew up in Markham. My family is there. All my roots are there. The hospital there isn’t too far from where I grew up. Just like any hospital now, it’s facing some unprecedented challenges through this crisis and for me it’s always going to be where I grew up. ... I have really strong ties to that community."
Markham Stouffville Hospital is a two-site community care facility serving the southeast York region near Toronto. The hospital has created a fund to purchase hospital-grade masks, gloves, gowns and face shields.
Thank you to Markham native and @BuffaloSabres @JeffSkinner for honouring the frontline health care workers combatting #COVID19 at his hometown hospital, @MSHospital, with a $53,000 donation, a nod to his jersey number. #MarkhamProud pic.twitter.com/5QmyUefdWX
— Markham Stouffville Hospital (@MSHospital) April 6, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed health-care facilities across the globe, leading to a shortage of ventilators and personal protective equipment. Sabres captain Jack Eichel assisted with the latter when he donated 5,000 medical shields to hospitals in the Buffalo area.
"Jeff Skinner’s generous donation to Markham Stouffville Hospital speaks directly to his character as a leader and the values at the heart of our community," Suzette Strong, CEO of Markham Stouffville Hospital Foundation, said in a statement. "We are honored that Jeff is commemorating his Markham roots by giving back to help Markham Stouffville Hospital combat Covid-19. His contribution will make a huge difference to our front-line health care workers and will help ensure our community – the community where Jeff grew up – receives the critical care it needs during this challenging time."
Kitchener was Skinner's home during his final two years of high school. He left his family in Markham to pursue his dream with the storied OHL franchise and wound up scoring 77 regular-season goals over his two years with the Rangers, leading him to be selected seventh overall by the Hurricanes in 2010.
His donation will help the Food Bank of Waterloo Region – which covers the Kitchener area – reduce service disruptions by providing more than 150,000 meals to the community.
"It’s always been a supportive community to me," Skinner said. "Obviously leaving home and going to a new place to play hockey, it can be challenging. Kitchener supported me and guided me and helped me grow up in a way. The food bank there is another opportunity to give back to a community that’s always been good to me and is part of who I am. "