Even though winters are short here in "Canada South," Art Roth's used ice skates are a hot-ticket item with the local kids.
How it all began
During a garage cleanup 15 years ago, Art discovered several pairs of his children's outgrown ice skates and wanted to pass them on. The next Sunday he packed up the skates, took them to his church, All Saints Anglican, and suggested a skating party for the Sunday Schoolers.
"It was a kind of catalyst," says the retired public servant. "Some kids had their own skates already, but a lot didn't." Those kids jumped at the chance to try them on and try out skating, and the church began hosting regular skating outings. And, prompted by reminders in the church bulletin, parishioners donated even more pairs.
Art began checking out yard sales, too. "You have to keep your eyes open. You never know when a pair will pop up," he says. Stored in boxes in the church, the collection now comprises 40 pairs, and Art's lending system couldn't be simpler: if kids need skates, they borrow them; when they're through with the skates, they bring them back. "We received them freely, so let's give them out freely," Art says. "We rely on the honour system. I bring out the boxes and say â€˜Help yourself.'" If someone needs a pair for the season, Art asks the child to return the skates in the spring and get them sharpened, if they can, before they do.
"It's kind of potluck," he says. "We can't guarantee we have something in the size a child might need." Some parents, after seeing how much their children enjoy the borrowed blades, may go on to buy them a pair. "And, who knows," says Art, "those skates may end up in the collection."
Seeing a difference
"I have my own skates now," says 18-year-old Giselle Domingue, who first skated at age six. "If it wasn't for the ones Art loaned me, I might never have tried it...I counted on that skate collection for a long time."
Everyone seems to enjoy the exchange. When one older parishioner reluctantly decided his skating days were over, he donated his skates. They were laced on, soon after, by a teenager from Sudan who was experiencing his first Canadian winter. The teen loved his turn on the rink, and the donor was pleased to see his skates enjoyed with such enthusiasm.
By a happy coincidence, the City of Windsor opened an outdoor civic ice rink four years ago -- directly across the street from All Saints. The annual parish skating parties continue to draw a crowd, including Giselle. "I go every year," she says. "We have a good time, and I enjoy skating with the little kids."
Art's son Mark, who teaches at a local school, uses the skate collection, too. Mark takes his students to the civic rink so they can enjoy a whirl on the skates, then warm up with refreshments in the church. "I hope to let more schools know about it," says Art. "There are so many kids who might not otherwise get the chance to experience some time on the ice."
A one-time Scout leader, Art is keen to get kids outside and get them moving. "So many kids -- and adults -- have sedentary lifestyles," he says. "Especially in the winter, we tend to â€˜batten down the hatches' and be very sedentary." Dubbed "the skate guy" by the local kids, Art hopes that showing children how to get out in the cold and have fun with other people is a lesson they'll carry into adulthood.
His own love of skating doesn't hurt. "It brings out the kid in me," he says. "I still like to get out there and take a turn around the ice, and it's a lot more fun when you have people -- especially kids -- to do it with."