Left to right: Monika Levarsky

Left to right: Monika Levarsky

Cascades catch the Christmas spirit

Helping others took precedence over Secret Santa shenanigans as the UFV soccer team volunteered at a Chilliwack mission.

As Christmas parties go, the one hosted by the University of the Fraser Valley women’s soccer team Dec. 5 was somewhat unconventional.

Instead of gathering in front of a crackling fire and exchanging Secret Santa gifts while sporting cheesy-but-amazing holiday sweaters, the Cascades chose to spend the evening at Ruth & Naomi’s Mission in Chilliwack, preparing a meal for people in need.

In the spirit of the season, the team handled every aspect – from buying the groceries, to preparing the meal, to serving the food, to cleaning up afterward. In the end, about 120 people enjoyed lasagna, Caesar salad and garlic bread courtesy of the Cascades.

“We did this two years ago, and the girls liked it and wanted to do it again,” said UFV head coach Rob Giesbrecht, whose wife Cheryl works at Ruth & Naomi’s Mission as administrative assistant and volunteer coordinator. “We want to have a culture on our team that we give back.

“We want to give the girls the sense that we live pretty easy lives and we’re pretty fortunate. For them to get a fresh look at how others live makes them more appreciative, and hopefully it encourages them to keep giving back in different ways.”

Giesbrecht was proud of how his players spent time at the tables interacting with the people they served. When the meal was over and the cleanup was done, the Cascades spent a few minutes together sipping hot chocolate and handing out player awards for the 2015 season.

“Giving back in any sense just brings people together,” goalkeeper Kayla Klim said, reflecting on the night. “It’s a sense of unity that every successful team should have. I feel like it’s a much more meaningful way for us to spend our time than our typical Christmas gatherings, and that’s maybe what made it so special.

“The big thing was, we didn’t look down on the people (at the mission). We just went over and started conversations. It was informal – we weren’t forcing conversation – and it turned out to be heartwarming. Overall, it was a gratifying experience.”

Risa Venuto, a fellow goalkeeper who served as head chef on Saturday, said that helping out at the mission was “an absolutely wonderful experience.”

“It’s always nice to be able to give back to the community, especially during the holiday season,” she said. “For me, the best part by far was seeing all of the smiling faces in the room while everyone was enjoying their supper and socializing. It was truly heartwarming.”