It's blue against red on Nov. 26, when Airdrie's RCMP officers and firefighters lace their skates in the annual Sirens charity hockey game.
Of course, the spirited hockey game – which kicks off at 8 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena – is not just an on-ice battle for bragging rights between the two local first-response organizations, but also a crucial fundraiser for the Airdrie 1st Club's yearly Christmas hamper program.
“It’s always a good time,” said Andrew MacPherson, the charities coordinator for the Airdrie Professional Firefighters Association. “I don’t play in the game personally, but we have lots of guys who play and we get the Calgary Flames alumni to come out. It’s a fun rivalry and it raises money for the hamper program. It gets families out to enjoy it, and it’s a good time overall.”
The firefighters (Team Red) won last year's game, and MacPherson is predicting a repeat this time around.
However, Airdrie RCMP officer Jenna Kirkwood, who is captaining the RCMP squad (Team Blue), says not so fast to that prediction. The Sirens hockey veteran, who has played in the annual charity game since 2018, is confident she can whip the Mounties into shape.
“I definitely think police are going to win this time because I’m the captain and I’m going to ensure my team is ready to go,” she said. “They’re motivated and everyone is fired up to beat the firefighters.”
Off the ice, the two teams will also compete in the bleachers, as both attempt to raise more money and donations than the other. According to MacPherson, donations will also be accepted at Airdrie's fire halls until Dec. 3.
While the smack talk is already heating up, the overall ambition for both teams remains the same: to support the Airdrie 1st Club's Christmas hamper program, which gets underway this month and lasts through the holiday season.
“We have a good rivalry, but at the end of the day, the common goal is to raise as many donations as possible,” MacPherson said.
Previously known as the Airdrie Lioness Club, the Airdrie 1st Club's annual hamper program is the group's flagship initiative. Every November and December, the red-vested club members raise money and donations for the hampers, which are distributed to families in need.
As proof of the program's longevity, this year marks the club's 45th annual hamper program.
Helen Gitzel, the president of the Airdrie 1st Club, said the Sirens hockey game has become a great way to promote the hamper program each year.
“We get an amazing amount of support from Airdrie and it’s a nice way for everyone to have a lot of fun and raise a lot of money for what I think is a great program,” she said.
While she doesn't consider herself much of a hockey fan, Gitzel added last year's Sirens game was a blast, and she encourages members of the community to come out and watch the firefighters and RCMP officers duking it out.
“It’s post-COVID so hopefully it will be even more fun than we’ve had before,” she said.
This year will see a return to pre-pandemic normalcy for the local hamper program. In the last two years, Gitzel said the Airdrie 1st Club was largely restricted when it came to what they could donate. Instead of hand-selected toys and hand-picked groceries, the focus instead was on donated gift cards and cash.
But she pointed out the COVID-caused shift wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
“We did find through the pandemic, when we weren’t able to collect groceries, that our recipients really liked getting gift cards for groceries because they could buy the food that gives them comfort during the holiday season,” she said. “Our seniors loved it because they were able to go out and buy smaller amounts instead of having to deal with a large amount of food they weren’t sure they’d eat all of before it expired.”
Considering the ongoing impact of sky-high inflation this year, Gitzel acknowledged the hamper program will likely experience increased demand this holiday season. With that in mind, she hopes the community will be willing to support the initiative even more this year than in the past.
“Numbers are up for people in need, so hopefully we can have that on the other end with people who give,” she said.