By ALAN SHACKLETON
Canadian Olympic hero and Beacher Penny Oleksiak came home to meet and sign autographs for a huge number of her fans yesterday, while also helping to collect donations for the Daily Bread Food Bank.
The Give Back with Penny Oleksiak event was held on the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 14, at the entrance to Kew Gardens park on Queen Street East in the Beach.
Boxes full of donations of non-perishable food items from those attending were collected for the Daily Bread Food Bank. More than 1,200 pounds of food was collected at the event, said the Daily Bread in a note to Beach Metro News on Oct. 15.
For almost two hours, Oleksiak signed photos of herself and chatted with her fans who lined up beyond the plaza in front of the park and well along Queen Street East.
“She is my favourite athlete in the whole world,” said Audrey, 8, holding the photos that Oleksiak signed for her. “She’s my sports hero.”
Oleksiak, 21, is Canada’s most decorated Olympic athlete in history.
She achieved the honour by winning three medals in the pool at the Tokyo Olympic Games this past summer. Oleksiak won a silver and two bronze medals in Tokyo. She added them to the gold, silver and two bronze medals she won five years ago at the Rio Olympics to give her a total of seven; more than any other Canadian Olympian.
Oleksiak grew up in the Beach and attended Monarch Park Collegiate.
Back in 2016, a community parade was held to celebrate her medal wins in Rio. To honour her locally for becoming Canada’s most awarded Olympian, Oleksiak said she wanted an event that would help those in need.
And that is how Give Back with Penny Oleksiak for the Daily Bread Food Bank came to be.
“For me, it’s awesome to be here and to be able to give back to the community,” she said.
Oleksiak brought along her dog Bean to take part in the celebration and food drive.
“If I’m in the Beach, I have to bring my dog,” she said. “I’m happy to be here and super-amazed by the turnout.”
After the struggles so many people have gone through over the past year due to COVID-19 and other health and economic challenges, Oleksiak said bringing the community together to help out those in need was extremely important to her.
“COVID has hit a lot of people hard in these last two years and it’s important that we are helping others if we can,” said Oleksiak.
Neil Hetherington, Chief Executive Officer of the Daily Bread Food Bank, spoke prior the start of the autograph session and thanked Oleksiak for making the event a community food drive.
“This is an example of Penny’s humble leadership and leveraging her incredible achievements for the benefit of others,” he said.
The event was opened with the singing of O Canada by students from the Williamson Road Junior Public School choir.
Community leaders attending the event included local historian Gene Domagala; The Beach BIA Executive Director Paul Bieksa; Community Centre 55 Executive Director Debbie Visconti; Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford; Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown; and Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.