When Andrew Low and 43 other teen hockey players face off in the Kids Ice Cancer All-Star game at the Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange on June 5, no matter how the game turns out they’ll be scoring a major goal for pediatric cancer patients in New Jersey.
The match is a fundraiser for the Valerie Fund, which provides support for the comprehensive healthcare of children with cancer and blood disorders.
Ed and Sue Goldstein started the Maplewood-based Valerie Fund in 1976, after their nine-year-old daughter, Valerie, died of cancer. Determined that no family should have to travel long distances to receive superior medical care, they raised enough money to open an outpatient pediatric oncology facility at Overlook Hospital in Summit in 1977.
Today, seven Valerie Fund Children’s Centers, in New Jersey, New York City, and metro Philadelphia, provide close-to-home medical care, as well as customized services that are not covered by insurance, to more than 6,000 children and their families each year.
Andrew, who lives in North Caldwell and is a senior at Morristown-Beard School, started using his passion for hockey to raise money for sick children when he was a freshman and had recently lost his paternal grandparents, Jim and Ann Low, to cancer. He and his Morristown-Beard varsity hockey teammates created Kids Ice Cancer and played in a charity hockey game, raising $14,000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
“St. Jude’s is an incredible organization, but there’s something truly special about helping those in your own community,” Andrew said.
He added that Bunny Flanders, the Valerie Fund’s director of marketing and communications, offered to take him to see the fund’s center in Morristown Medical Center three years ago.
“When I saw the children I would potentially be helping, it truly made a difference,” Andrew said. “These were people you might see walking down the street, people you could have a connection with.”
He particularly recalled a boy named Ben. “He was testing one of the robots that was going to be placed in his school as part of the Valerie Fund’s psychosocial services, so he could attend school remotely. Through the years, I’ve gone to Valerie Fund events and met many kids and hear their stories, and I understand how incredible the fund has been in their lives.”
Kids Ice Cancer has dedicated its efforts to the Valerie Fund ever since, raising $190,000 for the organization in the last two years.
“Our goal this year is to raise another $60,000, bringing our total fundraising to $250,000,” Andrew said. As of this writing, the amount the team had raised was well over $237,000.
Ms. Flanders said hitting that goal would make Kids Ice Cancer one of the most successful community initiatives in the Valerie Fund’s history.
Andrew said he sees Kids Ice Cancer as very much a team sport, just like hockey. “After my teammates and I raised $14,000 for St. Jude’s, I thought, what if every single person on the team had their own branch on the fundraising website and reached out to everyone they know?”
Setting up the fundraiser that way has “built a sense of camaraderie and a real desire to help others,” he said. “That’s what makes it possible.” This model also appeals to the student athletes’ sense of competition.
“On the website, donors have to click who they’re donating for on the dropdown menu,” Andrew continued. “Every week we do a little contest tracking every person’s donation. The main purpose is to help those in need, of course, but we’re all competitive at heart. And when you get competitive with something, there is an extra incentive to do well.
“It has an unbelievable end result of helping kids with cancer live another day, go to school, and do all the things that the Valerie Fund enables them to do.”
Andrew said that one of his inspirations is his maternal grandfather, Peter Fried, who escaped from Hungary during the revolution in 1956 and spent his 13th birthday — what should have been his bar mitzvah — in hiding in Budapest.
“My wanting to help others, as others helped him, probably stems from seeing what he’s been through in his fight for freedom, his fight to live another day, or to put food on the table,” Andrew said. “There’s so much we can do.”
Andrew, who is the son of Wendy and Kevin Low, went to religious school at Temple Sholom of West Essex. In the fall, he will join the Weyburn Red Wings, a Canadian junior ice hockey team.
What: Kids Ice Cancer All-Star Game benefiting the Valerie Fund
When: June 5, 7 p.m.
Where: Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange; the game will be livestreamed by Morris-Sussex Sports
For more information: Call Bunny Flanders at (973) 202-1992 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to donate: Go towww.thevaleriefund.org/specials/hockey