Jack Knox: Salvation Army ups its game, taps celebrity power

Jack Knox mugshot genericTessa Virtue and Scott Moir are Canadian royalty. The most decorated Olympic figure skaters of all time — ice dance and team gold in PyeongChang in February, silvers in the same events in Sochi in 2014, ice dance gold in Vancouver 2010 — they are those rare athletes whose fame transcends their sport.

On Saturday, they were inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto, along with actor Seth Rogen and retired astronaut Chris Hadfield. They have had their own book, their own reality show. They chill with Drake at Toronto Raptors games, are friends with the guys from the Tragically Hip. ESPN named Virtue one of the best-known female athletes in the world.

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Attractive and charming and personable, they are Canada’s sweethearts — except they’re not. Instead, they’re whatever it is that you call friends and partners who have shared the ammonia-and-french-fries odour of 6 a.m. hockey rinks since childhood, who have been joined at the sequined hip for 21 years.

In short, they’re at the top of the A-list of celebrities you would want to lure donors to your charity event, which is what the Salvation Army did in Victoria on Tuesday. Virtue, 29, and Moir, 31, drew 400 people to the inaugural Hope in the City luncheon at the Roundhouse at Bayview Place. It sold out at $60 a plate.

To which Victorians might say: The Salvation Army? Really? The Sally Ann isn’t in the glitzy star-studded fundraiser business. It’s in the saving souls and helping people out of the ditch business. Virtue and Moir are a big step up from the shivering guy in the Santa hat ringing a bell beside a sidewalk red kettle.

To which the Salvation Army can reply that it needs the glitz to pay for the ditch-helping.

“We needed a fundraiser to pull up donations,” says Victoria spokeswoman Patricia Mamic, bluntly.

The kettle campaign must pay for the Salvation Army’s good works all year long, not just at Christmas. Dollars only stretch so far.

Virtue and Moir were brought in to make a big splash at Victoria’s inaugural Hope in the City event, which is new here but not in other Canadian cities (including Vancouver, where the skaters were to appear today). They didn’t disappoint, amicably giving the crowd a glimpse of a relationship that began when his aunt — her coach — introduced them in southern Ontario. He didn’t even want to be a figure skater, had only signed up to improve his hockey skills. (“I wanted to be Joe Sakic. I wanted to win the Stanley Cup.”)

They grew up together, went through adolescence together, threw their whole lives into their sport at the same time. (“We didn’t think twice about moving away from home at the ages of 13 and 15,” Virtue said.) They matured under the same spotlight.

Moir, tongue slightly in cheek, commended the audience for being the first in history to make it through a half-hour Q and A session without asking about the pair’s romantic involvement, or the lack thereof. Both of them then rang bells to kick off this year’s red kettle campaign, with event committee chairman Bruce Hallsor making the first donation.

Right, the kettle campaign, which brings us back to the street, and the reason all this was happening. There’s so much poverty out there, Mamic says, and it doesn’t look like what you think, it isn’t just the sidewalk guy begging for change. It’s the senior who spends all day in the library, unnoticed. It’s the young guy who couch-surfs. It’s the ordinary people who you don’t notice as they walk past, because they’re presentable and dressed in decent clothes from the thrift shop, not rags. “Then they go home and they don’t know how they’re going to feed their kids next week.”

“I wish I could share with donors what we see on the front lines,” Mamic says. That cute kid skipping down the street with a pink backpack? It came from the Salvation Army. She’s also the girl who always has some reason for not being able to go on the school trip, the one that costs money. Not every family can afford piano lessons. Not every child can have skating lessons, can get a crack at being the next Virtue or Moir.

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The kettle campaign runs through December. Also note that the Salvation Army is one of the beneficiaries of the Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

Also note that CHEK television’s annual drive in support of the Salvation Army is Friday: Bring non-perishable food, clothing, toys, household items or cash to the CHEK parking lot between 5 and 7 p.m, or to Spencer Middle School at 1026 Goldstream Ave. at the same time.

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