Frank McGrath

Holiday Toy Giveaway Already Making Impact Across State

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

The 2017 JAKKS Pacific Holiday Toy Giveaway is already off to a tremendous start.

On Tuesday morning in Columbus, Ind., approximately 75 children were treated to an early holiday surprise, as Pacers Sports & Entertainment, the Columbus police department, and members of local high school basketball teams joined forces to distribute toys from JAKKS Pacific.

The children beamed as they received their toys — Star Wars figurines are big hit this year — then laughed as they played with Boomer and Freddy Fever, the Pacers and Fever mascots, and nibbled on holiday cookies.

The day was just one of several stops PS&E is making across the state this month to distribute toys donated by JAKKS Pacific Toy Company Chairman & CEO Stephen Berman, the eigth consecutive year that JAKKS Pacific has donated toys Hoosier children.

The impact was not lost on Columbus mayor Jim Leinhoop, who expressed gratitude for the Pacers reaching out to his community.

"They're called the Indiana Pacers and they truly mean that," Lienhoop remarked.

Berman, a close friend of PS&E Owner Herb Simon, and JAKKS Pacific, one of the leading U.S. toy companies, are providing toys to more than 50 youth-serving non-profit organizations throughout Indiana. The donation is part of the annual Pacers and NBA Season of Giving initiative.

"We're very fortunate to have an extremely generous benefactor in Stephen Berman," Pacers Sr. Vice President Bill Benner. "Without him, none of this is possible."

All month, PS&E will be teaming up with local police departments for donation ceremonies in eight different cities across the state. In the first week, they visited Fort Wayne, Columbus, and Evansville.

At the first stop in Fort Wayne last Friday, they were joined by front office members, coaches, and players from the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Pacers' affiliate in the NBA G League.

"This is something that Herb Simon and the Pacers have been doing for a number of years, and to tip it off here in Fort Wayne is awesome," Mad Ants GM Brian Levy said. "With our partnership, it just shows that although we're separated by over 100 miles, it's really not that far apart: We Are One. The same organization, the same state."

At each stop, all involved commented on the wonderful feeling of being able to bring joy to local children during the holiday season.

"Debbie Stellwagen, who I deal with here at the Boys & Girls Club, told me over the phone this morning that we have made 300 kid's Christmases because most of these kids were not going to get gifts at Christmas," said Mad Ants President Tim Bawmann. "So that's pretty special."

The toy giveaway continues next week with visits to Greencastle and Connersville on Monday and Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will join Berman and Simon as well as members of both the Pacers and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a toy distribution during pre-game and in-game festivities at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Though the donation has always been statewide, this year, JAKKS Pacific also donated toys for children in the hurricane-affected NBA cities of Houston, Miami and Orlando.

"Stephen's continued generosity knows no bounds and his initiative to reach out with toy donations to children in the three storm-ravaged NBA markets is a profoundly thoughtful gesture," said Pacers Sports & Entertainment President and COO Rick Fuson. "You simply cannot measure how many children, families and youth-serving organizations have had their holidays brightened because of Stephen's kindness over the last eight years."

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