Akil Thomas and his mother are spearheading a drive to give a group of orphans in Ghana their first-ever Christmas celebration. NHL players and the hockey community are opening their hearts and wallets to help.
The 20-year-old Los Angeles Kings prospect and his mother, Akilah Love Thomas, are helping raise money through a GoFundMe page to provide 193 impoverished orphans in Jamestown, Accra, Ghana, with a memorable holiday.
The drive that began Thursday has raised more than $9,500 so far, including $5,000 from San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane and $1,000 from Detroit Red Wings center Sam Gagner.
“I didn’t expect that to happen,” Akil Thomas said. “I probably was going to be pumped if we even raised $1,000 altogether, so it’s crazy.”
Kane said he was moved to contribute after he saw a picture of the Ghanaian children on the GoFundMe page.
“Honestly, looking at the picture of those kids just makes you want to help provide a better experience and environment for them and let those kids know that there are others thinking of them,” said Kane, who is co-head of the Hockey Diversity Alliance.
Akil Thomas became aware of the plight of the orphans through The DNA Brand, a nonprofit group that his mother co-founded that has been working with a man in Ghana who has been trying to help the children.
He said he was touched when the children sent him a congratulatory video after he scored the game-winning goal for Canada against Russia in the championship game of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“I was thinking, ‘How can I help?” said Thomas, a center selected by the Kings in the second round (No. 51) of the 2018 NHL Draft. “My mom was saying they really want to raise money to give them like their first Christmas dinner and potentially a gift or something like that along the line. So I just kind of brainstorming with my mom about what we could do and at the last minute, I thought of this. I didn’t think it would take off the way it’s taken off so far, but we’re definitely making a massive impact on them (the children), so I’m pretty happy about it.”
So is Akilah Thomas. She said the money raised will be used for a full traditional Christmas dinner for the children as a group, complete with soft drinks, entertainment and toys.
“It’s coming close to the time where they might not have it on Christmas day, but at least knowing that they are able to be together, they are able to smile, they are able to enjoy a soft drink and a snow cone,” she said. “Our goal is a gift, an amazing healthy meal, and togetherness with a band and music and dance and just happiness.”
The Christmas fundraiser is part of a larger ongoing effort by The DNA Brand to give the children, who were displaced from makeshift dwellings that were on open land, permanent shelter and a school building. The ultimate goal is to raise $100,000, Akilah Thomas said.
DNA Brand was able to secure temporary apartments to house the children until the end of the year and “our goal is to raise enough money that we can buy a piece of land, go there and build a house, build an orphanage and build a school and have them live like the rest of us in normal living conditions.”
Akil Thomas said he hopes he’ll be able to travel to Ghana someday when the coronavirus pandemic eases to visit the children.
“I just want to do my part and try to give them as much resources as possible to live as normal as a human being as possible given their circumstances,” he said. “I know I can’t do it all, but I’ll definitely give it all I got and try to help them out as much as I can.”