- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 7, 2016

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - There were the old standbys such as dolls and trucks, but also a new favorite of children, Minions, as representatives of the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever brought 3,000 toys to Terre Haute Monday.

The NBA and WNBA teams are lending Santa a hand by partnering with the Terre Haute Police Department, United Way of the Wabash Valley, Terre Haute Boys and Girls Club, 14th and Chestnut Community Center, Salvation Army and the Council on Domestic Abuse.

Bringing the toy drive to Terre Haute is especially meaningful for the Pacers because it is the hometown of Hall of Fame Coach Bobby “Slick” Leonard and Pacers Vice-Chairman Jim Morris.

It’s also the college home of former coach and current president of basketball operations, Larry Bird, noted Bill Benner, senior vice president of community relations for the Pacers. Also, Rick Fuson, the Pacers president and chief executive officer, is the son of Terre Haute native Wayne Fuson.

This marks the seventh consecutive year that the Pacers and Fever have conducted their “Season of Giving” toy distribution but it is the first year they have taken the program statewide. In celebration of the team’s 50th season, toys are being provided to 50 non-profit organizations throughout the state.

The toys are provided by Jakks Pacific, a Santa Monica, California-based toy and consumer products manufacturer whose chairman and CEO, Stephen Berman, is a close friend of Pacers Sports & Entertainment owner Herb Simon. During the past seven years, Jakks has provided more than 300,000 toys to Indiana children, Benner said.

“From this simple friendship between two very generous individuals, thousands and thousands of our children in central Indiana have had smiles on their faces during the past seven years,” said Fuson. Now this year, children in an additional six Indiana communities will be the beneficiaries of Stephen’s generosity and genuine act of continuing kindness.”

Mayor Duke Bennett expressed appreciation to the teams for making Terre Haute their first stop on this year’s toy drive.

“There’s a lot of need out there and we appreciate the organizations stepping up and making Christmas much better for many of the kids in our community,” Bennett said during the event’s kickoff at Terre Haute Police Department headquarters.

“The community has stepped up (but) there is still a need,” said Ellen Reeves, community liaison with the United Way. “We’ve had a lot of people that have had their hours cut and who have lost jobs.”

For many in the Terre Haute area, “Christmas is something that has kind of been put on the back burner because food and housing are more important,” she said.

About two dozen children were on hand Monday to select toys. Terre Haute police officers will work with participating not-for-profit organizations to distribute the remaining toys during the coming weeks, said police Chief John Plasse.

In addition to Terre Haute, the toy drive will be expanded this year to include Bloomington, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Lafayette and Muncie.

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Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/2g6kzf6

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Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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