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Culture Watch: The Raptors give back with a call to action

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Before the playoffs tip-off today, let’s remember everything the Raptors organization has given back off the court.

2017 PTTOW! Summit: Love & Courage Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for PTTOW!

Last week we profiled the Toronto Raptors Superfan, and all the good he does. But Nav Bhatia isn’t the only philanthropist affiliated with the Toronto Raptors organization. One of the many qualities that make the Raptors so special, is their dedication to giving back.

So let’s take a look at the Raptors, and the impact they have on their community, and worldwide.

Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry and his wife, Ayahna are the founders of the Lowry Love Foundation. Their mission is to provide a better quality of life for underprivileged individuals within the Toronto and Philadelphia communities. At Thanksgiving, this means providing 300 Thanksgiving meals to families in need throughout Toronto. American Thanksgiving saw the same benevolence in Kyle’s hometown of North Philly.

At Christmas, the Lowry family treated children from Toronto and Philadelphia schools to shopping sprees at Toys R Us, and to a holiday party at St. Joseph’s University. The holidays are not the only time Mr. and Mrs. Lowry take care of their communities. Prior to the beginning of the school year, they donate backpacks to children in need, taking a small weight off of their hardworking parents. It may be only school supplies, but to families struggling to make ends meet, it is a godsend.

In January, Lowry also donated 1 million dollars to his alma mater, Villanova University, to aid with upgrades to their sports Pavillion.

DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan has been vocal about his involvement with Lupus Canada. DeMar entered the 2009 NBA draft in order to help his ailing mother, Diane, who suffers from the debilitating disease. DeMar’s platform has not only raised awareness for the illness, but money as well.

Just last week a group of Raptors fans, inspired by DeMar’s battle with mental health, banded together to raise over $3,600 for Lupus Canada. By speaking out about his own struggles with depression, DeRozan has created a dialogue that was not widely accepted throughout the league in years past, and allowed fans who are grappling with similar issues themselves to open up. Seven words changed more lives than he could ever comprehend, and DeMar is as grateful to his fans as they are to him.

In 2014, DeMar announced the launch of the DeMar DeRozan All Star Book Program, donating over 3,000 books to low income Toronto schools. The hard working All-Star also presented a challenge to the students: book reports! The program encouraged children to read by offering the class who produced the most book reports tickets to a Raptors game, a visit from DeMar himself, and even more books for each student. This is way cooler than the Pizza Hut personal pizza rewards from yesteryear.

In partnership with Foot Locker, and players throughout the league, DeMar participated in the Soles For Souls initiative this past winter, donating shoes and encouraging other players to do the same.

Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas is a proud Lithuanian, and his charitable actions prove this. His annual Lithuanian Heritage Day has become an event in the Toronto Lithuanian community. Fans in attendance are able to purchase discounted tickets, and to stay after the game for a meet and greet with the Lethal Lithuanian himself. This past year, a collaboration with Covenant House provided 300 pizza slices to those in need. Last winter, JV participated in the Lithuanian Heritage Day in New York City, alongside fellow Lithuanian basketball payer Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Together, they raised funds and awareness for Basketball Power, an agency dedicated to providing mentorship to youth of Lithuanian descent through basketball.

Bay Street Hoops is an annual event that Jonas has participated in. Their goal is to make sports more accessible for children in Toronto by holding a basketball tournament between prominent Bay Street figures, with all proceeds benefiting different charities each year.

Advocating against domestic abuse, bullying, suicide, and addiction, Valanciunas is also a representative of the “For A Safe Lithuania” campaign.

Jonas is the Lithuanian ambassador for Save the Children, and has worked directly with the organization for nine years. Preferring to practice his goodwill away from the media, Jonas provides basketball clinics, intimate visits, game worn jerseys, and, most importantly, guidance to the youth of his home country. He may not be a leader on the Raptors, but back home he is all that and more.

OG Anunoby

During his time at Indiana State University, OG Anunoby helped to raise awareness and funds for the Indiana University Dance Marathon. The marathon lasts 36 hours, and all proceeds are given directly to the Riley Hospital for Children.

Serge Ibaka

Life in the Congo was anything but easy for Serge Ibaka growing up. It would be these memories of his childhood that would inspire him to establish the Serge Ibaka Foundation, to inspire and assist children growing up in situations similar to his own. In 2014, while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ibaka donated $500 to Unicef for every block during the playoffs. The Serge Ibaka Foundation is in coalition with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, in an effort to provide hearing aids to those who are unable to obtain them in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, and Ibaka’s hometown.

C.J. Miles

The holidays truly are the Season of Giving for C.J. Miles. In 2016, C.J and his wife, Lauren, hosted two underprivileged families for Christmas in Indianapolis through the Healthy Start Association. This past winter, C.J. participated in the Warm A Sole initiative, providing socks to the homeless in Dallas.

At the end of the season, the Miles family tradition is to donate clothing to a charity or organization, and often one that has been suggested through Twitter or recommended by the team.

C.J.’s player designed hat can be purchased here, with 50% of the proceeds benefiting the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, and the other 50% going to the MLSE Foundatio

Pascal Siakam

Pascal himself is a product of Masai Ujiri’s Basketball Without Borders program, so it is no surprise that Siakam is also dedicated to giving back in any way he can. While on vacation in Mexico with teammate and sidekick, Jakob Poeltl, this past All Star Break, the duo headed to Nuevo Noh-Bec school in Playa Del Carmen to play with the children. Visiting schools is one of Siakam’s preferred methods of giving back. In February, he surprised students at Tredway Woodsworth Public School in Scarborough as part of the Right to Play program, providing safe and educational mentoring and activities to Aboriginal youth. One year ago, he attended George Syme Community School, also with Right to Play.

Fred VanVleet

Fred VanVleet may be becoming a superstar in Toronto, but he will never forget where he came from. Last Thanksgiving, Fred gave away two hundred turkeys to families in need in his homestead of west side Rockford, Illinois. This past year also saw the introductory Fred VanVleet Fan Fest, where a five dollar donation gained fans entrance to the party and, raising over $500 for Rockford basketball programs. In addition to the block party, VanVleet hosted a basketball camp for Rockford youth, charging only $90 for two days of camp.

Norm Powell

Norman Powell recalls watching his mother work multiple jobs to provide for him and his sisters as a single mother. He often went to school hungry, refusing to accept the lunch money his mother gave him, and came home to find the house was without electricity on more than one occasion. Basketball camps were simply not in the budget.

Today, Norman makes certain that the parents of boys and girls in his native San Diego, California, do not have to worry about telling their children that they simply cannot afford to send them to basketball camp. Powell’s basketball camp is entirely free. Norm also runs the Norman Powell 4 Elite Basketball Team for children under eight years old, leading them to a gold medal in 2016. Through the Toronto Kiwanis Boys and Girls Club, the same club the proceeds from C.J. Miles’ player designed hat assist, Norm has visited schools to mentor their children. Basketball has played such an integral part in Norm’s life, and he can see what an impact it has on those who are given access to it.

Jakob Poeltl

Jakob Poeltl attended Nuevo Noh-Bec school in Mexico with Pascal Siakam, but this is not the first time the dynamic duo have taken the time to brighten the days of a few children. Along with their fellow Raptors, Jak and Skills hosted a holiday party for families in need in 2016, inviting 14 families to the BioSteel Centre for a day of gifts, activities, and Christmas cheer with the Toronto Raptors. Jakob and Pascal even delivered gifts right to the doors of six of the families. They didn’t have a sleigh pulled by reindeer, but a Chevy Suburban worked just the same.

Steady mobbin

A post shared by Jakob Poeltl (@jakob) on

Lucas Nogueira

Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo represented Tourism Toronto during a tourism event in Brazil. Together with CIBC they were able to donate money to help fund Brazil’s tourism. Lucas regularly takes part in the Raptors’ visits to Sick Kids Hospital, playing games and spending time with children whose days aren’t filled with as much joy as those of most children.

And who could forget the Bebe’s contribution to Jonas Valanciunas’ Itty Bitty Baller campaign, adding a figurine of him riding a unicycle, with all proceeds benefiting Raptors’ initiatives.

Delon Wright

The importance of giving back did not stop at Dorell Wright, former NBA player and older brother to our very own Delon Wright. Dorell is the founder of D Wright Way Foundation, and Delon is right alongside him. D Wright Way is a multifaceted organization providing scholarships, basketball camps, holiday cheer, and Thanksgiving dinners to those who need them the most. Delon also runs his own basketball camp, the Delon Wright Basketball Camp, through JD Sports Academy.

This past Christmas, with the help of college teammate Jakob Poeltl, Delon spearheaded an initiative that would make sandwiches and pack backpacks full of necessities for those in Utah who may not have access to them.

Last week, a man claiming to be a Raptors fan attacked the Superfan during a Raptors and Celtics game.

That is not who Raptors fans are.

Sure, we might give the Wizards Game 1 today (it is the Raptors way, after all), but that’s not all we can give. To start, I pledge to donate 5$ to the choice charity of whichever player scores the highest number of points in each of the playoff games the Raptors win. But let’s keep it going. If you donate to any of these charities during the playoffs, please, let me know. We can put together an active thread, and when we win the Finals, we can show everyone just why we’re the best fans in the league, and feel good doing it.

The Raptors do a lot for us, and for our community. Let’s do something to remind them just how much they mean to us.