Indiana Pacers basketball mascots, Freddy Fever and Boomer, handed out toys to more than 30 children at City Hall on Wednesday. Brayden Whitaker, 4, smiled and lifted his brand new red monster truck for all to see. This event was just the beginning of a joint toy giveaway between the Pacers and the Bloomington Police Department
The BPD and the Indiana Pacers joined together this year to donate 3,000 toys to Bloomington area children.
BPD Chief of Police Michael Diekhoff said he was happy to have the toy giveaway, adding it allowed police officers to interact with children and parents in a different way. Diekhoff said the event was a win-win for both BPD and the Pacers.
“We’ll be busy for a few weeks passing stuff out,” Diekhoff said.
Heather Whitaker, Brayden’s mom, said he was going to start kindergarten next year. She said she was surprised with the event and happy her child could have a new toy.
“I didn’t expect all this,” Whitaker said. “It’s really nice.”
Bill Benner, the senior vice president of corporate, community and public relations for the Pacers, said this is the seventh year of operation, and this was the first year the Pacers had taken their toy giveaway beyond Central Indiana.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton, wearing a red Santa hat on his head, also spoke to the children and thanked the Pacers for their generosity.
“The gift of these 3,000 toys will no doubt be a blessing,” Hamilton said. “The Pacers organization has given a gift today.”
The 3,000 toys are only a part of the Pacers’ giveaway. JAKKS Pacific Inc. Chairman and CEO Stephen Berman reached out to the owner of Pacers Sports and Entertainment, Herb Simon, and the giveaway will be statewide and involve six additional communities outside Indianapolis.
“This is the first year we’ve gone beyond central Indianapolis,” Benner said. “I hope to keep doing this.”
Benner said the giveaway is taking place in Bloomington, Terre Haute, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Lafayette and Muncie. The Pacers will donate to 50 non-profit organizations in those cities in honor of the Pacers fiftieth season.
Hamilton thanked both the Pacers and BPD and called it a “special day” for the children and families of Bloomington. He said there has been a long history of sharing between Bloomington and the Pacers, as IU alums have gone on to work and play for the team.
Benner said the toy giveaway is a great way for the Pacers to give back to Bloomington and to the state after receiving support for 50 seasons of basketball. He said the important moment for him is when the children get to hold their gifts for the first time.
“This is the best part,” Benner said.