Penguins Rally Around Community in Aftermath of Synagogue Shooting

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October 27, 2018.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, which claimed the lives of 11 people, was a horrific event that rocked Pittsburgh and the country as a whole. 

How does a community move forward after such a tragedy? What is the next step towards recovery? Feeling helpless, how do you respond? For the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, it was utilizing their brand platform and community ties to help make a difference.

“When all of us heard the news, we took it personally,” said Tom McMillan, the Penguins’ vice president of communications. “Everyone was thinking, ‘What can I do to help?’ It was our responsibility to use our unique platform for the greater good of the community.”

With the #StrongerThanHate movement gaining traction throughout the country in the passing days after the shooting, members of the Penguins’ organization worked quickly and effectively to contribute to the cause.

“There were a lot of internal emails, texts and phone calls going around in the 24-hour period following the shooting as to what we should do,” said McMillan. “We had an away game the Saturday of the shooting. So, we immediately announced a commitment of $50,000 through the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation. We then turned our focus on what we can do going forward.”

The team set out to aid those ailing by establishing a blood drive inside PPG Paints Arena, where the team plays its home games. On Monday, October 29, just two days after the shooting, 254 people donated blood with many more having to make future appointments due to the overwhelming turnout. Additionally, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation donated $25,000 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and a fund established by the City of Pittsburgh Department of Safety to benefit police officers wounded during the attack.

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The community efforts were in full force that day. The city rallied together to provide support for an incredible cause. The next day, October 30, the Penguins had a home game against the New York Islanders.

In a span of three days, all departments within the Penguins’ front office worked together to honor the victims and help raise further donations and awareness.

The pre-game events featured 11 seconds of silence to honor the 11 victims of the shooting as well as a video highlighting the heart and soul of Pittsburgh sports fans and their ability to unite as one. To the surprise of fans within the arena, three of the wounded officers were on hand to join the team for the ceremonial puck drop.

“We didn’t announce in advance that the officers were taking part in the puck drop,” said McMillan. “So once they hit ice, the emotion in the building was thunderous. The cheering grew wilder and wilder as the pure gratitude that the fans, the players, and everyone was feeling was on full display.”

Players also got involved as they donned “Stronger Than Hate” jersey patches for that Tuesday’s game. As McMillan notes, it took many dedicated people to help make the jersey patches a reality.

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“Our biggest priority was making sure we did this in a respectful way,” said McMillan. “When we came up with the patch design, we ran it past Jewish Federation, as well as local rabbis in town to make sure that they approved.”

While the design was ready to go, getting the jersey in-hand was another matter entirely.

“There’s a logistical matter of designing the patch and getting it produced. It took a lot of work from a lot of people, from our social media team, to our designers, to our equipment managers to get that pulled off. We rushed quickly to create the patch and get them into production. The customized jerseys arrived on that Tuesday at 3 p.m. The game was at 7 p.m. that night.”

The game-worn jerseys were autographed by players and then put up for auction (which runs through November 13) with proceeds benefiting the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and The Pittsburgh Public Safety Department.

The demand for the patches was so high that the team began selling them individually. To further assist, donations were also raised through additional in-game auctions, 50/50 raffle contributions (both in Pittsburgh and around the NHL,) and a special text-to-donate program.

The Penguins’ organization has donated over $500,000 since the shooting took place. On Friday, November 8, the team presented a donation of $348,705 to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh to benefit victims and families of Tree Life Synagogue. The team will also be donating $200,000 to the Public Safety Support Trust Fund, a donation pool newly established by the city to help honor the first responders and safety personnel who helped on-scene during the shooting.

In the aftermath of the shooting and all of the community support that followed, the Penguins helped to serve as a catalyst for a community that was already committed to rectifying the situation.

“Coming out of a tragedy, you want to help restore a sense of normalcy,” said McMillan. “We wanted to make sure we did this the right way. While there were a lot of things going on very quickly, you could get a sense of people wanting to contribute. We were fortunate to use our platform to lend a hand.”

If you would like to help aid the victims, families, and first responders of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, please consider donating through the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation to give back to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and The Pittsburgh Public Safety Department.