Just as hunger is without borders, Five Hole for Food has no restrictions. Everyone is invited to play. Adult or child. Male or female. Friday night beer league superstar or first-time slap-shooting wannabe.
“Show up, make a donation, big or small, and we hand you a stick . . . you’re in the game,’’ said Richard Loat, who has turned street hockey games into a food pantry funding source throughout Canada the past four summers. “It’s that simple, really. We have no parameters, and you design the event to suit you. Play a couple of shifts. Play all day. Whatever works best for you.
“We’re out to change the world one goal at a time.’’
Lofty as that might sound, it’s undeniable that the 24-year-old Loat is turning street games into stocked food shelves, all after beginning Five Hole for Food in the summer of 2010, somewhat on a lark after volunteering to drive a car from Montreal to Vancouver (roughly 3,000 miles, not counting detours, interloping moose, and the odd hybrid icing).
Along the way east to west, Loat crashed on couches of like, charity-minded souls (typically those with hockey hearts, connected through social media) and set up street hockey games, usually in or around busy downtown intersections. When he wrapped up the 11-day journey in downtown Vancouver, he had staged games in nine cities and raked in enough donations to purchase some 6,000 pounds of food to hand out to those cities’ food banks along the way.
“So I did it again the next summer, 13 cities in 17 days, and the total take was 43,000 pounds,’’ Loat recalled recently, before boarding a flight to London, where he is organizing another iteration of street games aimed at putting the bite on hunger. “The next summer it was 133,000 pounds. And last summer, 350,000 pounds. So, about a half-million pounds total in four tours.’’
It has become a burgeoning, movable, and satisfying feast. And it keeps getting bigger. Loat, who recently earned his master’s degree in business at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, in the next few weeks will stage charity soccer games in the streets of London (Trafalgar Square), Paris (adjacent to City Hall), and Barcelona (Barceloneta, the beach area at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea). All of the futbol games will be framed by the same concept: show up, donate, play, feed the hungry. He has the same vision for basketball.
Loat, born in Dubai, “a child of the world,’’ moved with his family to Vancouver at age 10 and is quickly turning into the Pied Piper of socially responsible street games. Hunger exists everywhere, in every town, every city, in countries rich and poor. By taking his games to the street, often in cities of wealth and profile and affluence, he’s shining a light on a societal need that is too often, and too easily, overlooked in places where we assume the starved will find sustenance.
“Typically, around the holidays, food pantries receive plenty because people are in a giving mood,’’ noted Loat. “But then it can thin out through the rest of the year. So, street hockey in Canada in the summer . . . it’s a good fit in that sense.’’
The Canadian tour of 2012, recalled Loat, came to its customary close in Vancouver, with a beaming 5-year-old proud to hand over the $16.34 he shook out of his piggybank before he grabbed a stick. Moments later, one standerby, impressed with the tableau of games and giving, wrote out a check for $1,000.
“So it resonates, and you never really know what you’re going to get,’’ Loat said. “One year, again in Vancouver, it was a groom and his best man. They stepped in and played for a few minutes on the way to the wedding. We put up the rink and the rest is up to you.’’
Loat said he had a fair amount of dialogue with the Bruins about bringing the game to Boston, perhaps with street hockey to be staged on the bricks of City Hall Plaza. The interest was sincere on both sides, he said, and he hopes it happens in the near future.
“I’m from Vancouver, so I’m not supposed to like Boston, right?’’ kidded Loat, tapping into the intense rivalry between the Bruins and Canucks, for whom he once worked as a social media strategist. “Really, though, we’d love to bring it to Boston. Just tell me where it works best and we’ll be there.’’
Money is the typical donation, but canned goods are also gladly accepted on-site. And though it’s not common, said Loat, in some cases the hungry are in such dire need that they come to the events to receive food. Just as no one is turned away from playing, no one with a hand out for help is told no. In a few cases, food recipients also have joined in the game.
“You see some great things happening,’’ said Loat, noting that neither givers nor receivers are identified in respect to privacy. “You’ll see 5-year-old kids out there getting tips from a guy in his 60s who’s holding a wood stick from the Bobby Orr era. It’s everyone you can imagine. A lot of beer league players, age 18 to 35, and a bunch of women in that same age group play, too. We don’t want anyone left out. Once you’ve put up requirements, you’ve isolated someone.’’
The fifth annual Canadian tour kicks off July 2 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, sweeps through the Maritimes, and then heads west, to conclude in Vancouver July 19 (the bet here is that Alex Burrows will give the event some impressive bite). If you want to learn more, visit www.fiveholeforfood.com.
“I figure I’m 24 years old, at a point in my life that I’ve got nothing to lose,’’ said Loat, moments before boarding his flight to Heathrow, street soccer games to schedule. “How many times in your life do you have a chance to create tangible, hands-on change?’’
This could be Loat’s one time. Be it the start, the continuum or the finish, he has an opponent as big as the world itself. There may be no true win, but rather a string of victories, earned one goal at a time.