TORONTO -- While the Blue Jays continue to win on the field, they were also big winners off the field Wednesday afternoon.
Current Blue Jays Drew Storen and Josh Thole were joined by alumni Devon White and Duane Ward and members of the organization at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Foundation's annual Gifts of Light barbecue.
Located in the heart of Toronto, CAMH is one of the largest addiction and mental health organizations in North America, and it is Canada's leading mental health and addiction teaching hospital. The Gifts of Light program allows CAMH supporters a chance interact with patients on a personal level, while also delivering gifts and hope directly to those who need it most.
The Blue Jays' presence at the event was met with an overwhelming response, as patients, as well as donors, had the opportunity to meet and take pictures with the players and alumni. First-year Blue Jays reliever Storen was elated by the large turnout, and he was happy to ingrain himself within the Toronto community.
"It's something that's so tough to put into words, because it just shows you how much the Blue Jays mean to a lot of people," Storen said. "This goes way beyond baseball, and even though some of them may not know [who] I am, they know that I play for the Jays. If I can just put a smile on their face, that's good enough. It means a lot to see the outreach of the team, as well as what they do for the community."
The Blue Jays' initial involvement with CAMH began more than 15 years ago. Former team president and CEO Paul Beeston served in various capacities on the Board of Trustees for CAMH -- including a period as chair -- and members of the organization would partake in numerous initiatives. The Gifts of Light program launched in 2008 during Beeston's second tenure with the Blue Jays, and the team has been involved in some capacity ever since.
"There's become a bond that's been built with the Blue Jays where we all kind of feel as though we're on the same team, and our guys have always wanted to give back together," said Beeston, who still supports multiple CAMH initiatives. "If you can actually make people by happy by signing autographs, taking pictures and conversing with fans, I tell you what -- talking about gifts -- that's a special gift to have.
"We've had rain, we've had sunshine, and we've had beautiful day[s] like today in the past at this event, but the people change. It's a new group all the time, but you will always see people dancing, smiling, and although the players are just a part of it, they love doing it."
Activities at Wednesday's barbecue included a live DJ, an ice cream station, as well as multiple sporting activities, such as basketball, fastest-pitch competitions and a foosball table. The Gifts of Light program has grown exponentially since its inception, evolving into a year-round program, delivering tangible gifts and meaningful experiences to patients throughout their journey of recovery. Part of that growth has been the introduction of the Gifts of Light store, which opened its doors in the fall of 2015, as well as the evolution of numerous different client experience programs.
"Our goal is to always bring more of a community to CAMH, and make sure that our clients know that there is support all around them," said Quinn Kirby, program manager of Gifts of Light. "This is one of the most anticipated events of the year -- especially because the Blue Jays come -- and we're just really excited it turned out so well. Toronto is an important city, and we're always happy to see that people are supporting CAMH and what we do."
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.