When the Spokane Chiefs hockey team hits the ice in full gear and the crowd roars “Go Chiefs, Go!” it’s easy to forget that many of the players are high school students, barely into their late teens.
Many of them are far away from home, living with a host family while in Spokane, and their lives revolve around hockey, school and more hockey, interrupted by a road trip now and again for even more hockey.
“Their lives can get kind of isolated,” said Robert McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities, when the Chiefs visited the House of Charity last week. “My wife and I host hockey players. We’ve done so for nine years and we keep saying we’ll continue until we get a bad kid. We still haven’t had a bad kid.”
Early last week the Chiefs spent three days visiting the House of Charity. The team toured the homeless shelter and then helped make and serve hot lunch. They also brought boxes of knitted Chiefs hats to give to clients.
“More of the guys need to see this and see what some people go through,” said Brenden Kichton, 19, one of the Chiefs star defenders. “It makes you want to do more to help people. It does change your perspective when you meet the homeless here.”
The day room at the House of Charity was full of people waiting for lunch, as it is most days, when the Chiefs walked in sporting their game jerseys. Hoots and hollers immediately went up and the team was generous with high-fives and handshakes as they made their way back to the kitchen.
“It is good for (the players) to get cornered by someone and have their ears chatted off,” said McCann, explaining that many of the House of Charity’s clients have mental illness or have severe withdrawal symptoms because of substance abuse.
“You guys could be in 10 other places today but you are here because it’s the right thing to do,” McCann told the team during their tour of the House of Charity.
The 109 beds at the homeless shelter are full every night.
The team listened silently and wide-eyed as McCann explained that they have special, smaller sleeping quarters for those who snore or wake up screaming in the middle of the night because they are going through withdrawal.
“The building is scrubbed every morning, but we try to give the same bed to the same man every night,” said McCann. “We treat everyone here with dignity and respect. There’s something special about the building, it calms people down. We rarely have issues with violence.”
Back in the steamy kitchen chef Tammi Rossi was cooking up pasta aioli and ratatouille. Soon the Chiefs players were hauling trays out of the ovens and stirring the boiling pasta, before they lined up, getting ready to serve the hungry clients.
The House of Charity serves 70,000 meals every year on a food budget of about $4,000.
That’s only possible because most of the food comes from 13 grocery stores that get a visit from the House of Charity van every morning, and from other businesses that donate on a regular basis.
“Tammi is amazing. She never knows what she’ll have to cook with when she gets here in the morning,” said McCann. “I mean, look at the menu today: pasta aioli? I couldn’t even make that at home and I can go to the store for whatever I need.”
Kichton is from Spruce Grove, Alberta, and he’s in Spokane with the Chiefs for the fourth year.
He has visited the House of Charity before and said he wouldn’t go without the experience.
“It’s cool that people know us when we walk in here,” Kichton said. “And it’s cool for us that we get to give back to the community.”