TAMPA, Fla. - Since 2011, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife Penny have been honoring outstanding community heroes during every home game and rewarding them with $50,000 checks. During the COVID-19 shutdown, the program was put on hold, but even with millions in lost revenues from no games, the Viniks’ generosity is flourishing.
The presentation had to be different during these trying times, but Jeff Vinik's philanthropic efforts couldn't be stopped. Dr. Cameron Tebbi is the first to receive a $50,000 check for his advancements in developing a vaccine for leukemia.
He's the first of seven planned recipients over the next six weeks.
"We love our community hero program,” insisted Elizabeth Frazier, Vinik's senior vice president of philanthropy and community initiatives. "We're sorry we weren't playing the last seven games of the season, but it's still very important to Jeff and Penny that we get that money out there to the non-profit community."
Dr. Tebbi is the 400th person that the Lightning have honored with a check in the last nine years of the program. The Viniks have exceeded the $20-million, 10-year pledge for the program and they're not done.
"We have at least another year of it,” said Frazier. "If you do the math, we are over the $20-million because Jeff an Penny didn't include playoffs in the beginning and Jeff was like, ‘Of course we have to do this during the playoff games we play at home.’ It's just been amazing to see the journey of it over the nine years. We'll see what comes next."
The Lightning's committee pours over hundreds of candidates to find the most deserving. It sounds like a difficult challenge.
"I think part of the strength of the program is that there's no one definition of a community hero or how you can give back to the community,’ continued Frazier. "Obviously in times like these, it's important to focus and we come together on certain issues and pillars. It's also great that we are able to support a lot of different areas."
As much of a priority as this program is for the Viniks, Jeff cannot wait for Lightning to return to the ice.
"I think everyone in the organization is eager to start playing, finish out the season and see what happens,” Frazier added.