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<  Shannon Drayer

Rick Rizzs and Toys for Kids make thousands of area children happy at Christmas

By Shannon Drayer

Thousands of homeless and disadvantaged children in the Puget Sound area will receive toys this Christmas thanks to Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs and Toys for Kids. The charity, founded by Rizzs and former Mariner Dave Henderson and supported by the Seattle Mariners RBI Club, has been providing Christmas presents for area children since 1995. On Wednesday morning, representatives from 18 organizations cleaned out the shelves at the Bellevue Toys"R"Us thanks to Rizzs and Toys for Kids.

The sight was impressive. Volunteers from each organization roamed the aisles with lists in hand. Each organization was given an amount to spend and all had a strategy as there were different needs and different age groups to cover. Teresa Everett from Atlantic Street Center dispatched an army of volunteers to every corner of the store with specific instructions for just what to get for the 1,500 kids they were buying for. None of this would be possible without Rizzs, according to Everett.

"It means everything," she said. "I joke with the director and say if we ever lose Rick and Toys for Kids I can't do this anymore. It is the bulk of our toys that we receive. It is the largest single donation that we get to our agency. It means everything."

Everett and Atlantic Street Center came to the attention of Rizzs six years ago when he saw their story on the evening news. The center lost its major funder of toys just a week before their holiday party. Rizzs picked up the phone and called the organization and said that he had heard that they needed help. The news was too good to be true for Everett.

"I put Rick on hold, I didn't believe it was him on the phone!" she said with a laugh. "But he came through for Atlantic Street Center and the Mariners and Toys for Kids have been friends of Atlantic Street ever since."

Everett remembered the first trip to the toy shopping event and how they arrived not knowing what to expect. They walked down the aisles, taking a toy here and there, sometimes putting them back. With less than two hours to shop before the store opened to the public, Rizzs realized they needed some help.

"Tell me one thing that you need," he told the women.

"Soccer balls," they replied.

"Great," responded Rizzs, who then emptied an entire shelf of soccer balls into their cart.

"That's how you shop," he told Everett. "Get what you need and let me worry about it."

Everett is now a veteran of the annual shopping trips. Her army of volunteers had overflowing carts lined up from one end of the store to the other. It was a sight that put a smile on Rizzs' face.

"It's like playing Santa Claus every year," he said. "This year we had our best ever dinner and auction. We raised almost a quarter of a million dollars and now we are buying toys for 18 different homeless organizations for over 7,000 homeless kids and kids in hospitals. To see all those toys in baskets? Those toys are going to be in the hands of kids that normally wouldn't get a toy at Christmas time. But we are there to help out these agencies, these moms and their kids at a special time of year."

It is clearly a special time for Rizzs, too. Throughout the year he gathers donations from organizations and ballplayers for an auction at the annual Toys for Kids dinner. On Wednesday morning, he oversaw the shopping event, greeting each representative by name and helping them check out, making sure that they had spent their full allotment. He has a special appreciation for those who are helping the kids.

"It's amazing to know what they do for their organizations," he said. "People that they help all year long and now we come along at this time of the year to help these kids. If you really take a look around you see that there is such a need in our community. People who have had a rough time, whatever their circumstances may be, can't afford not the luxuries but certain necessities in life and not being able to afford a toy for their kids? We are here to help out."

For more, visit rickstoysforkids.com.

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