Toys for Christmas brought smiles to the faces of 75 children this week in Columbus.

But it was the antics of Boomer, the Indiana Pacers mascot, and colleague Freddie Fever that made the toy donations a slam dunk in the minds of the awed recipients. The 75 are among 2,000 children from the Columbus area who will benefit from the generosity shown by the Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever and a toy-manufacturing partner.

More than 100 people gathered Tuesday at The Commons for the first part of the giveaway. Guests included 50 first-graders from Columbus Signature Academy — Lincoln Campus and 25 preschool students from the Little Lambs Childcare Ministry at Sandy Hook Church.

Representatives from the Pacers and Fever, working in partnership with JAKKS Pacific Toy Co., are donating the toys to four charitable groups working to distribute holiday cheer — Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, Shop with a Cop and the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund.

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They are among 200 agencies statewide getting a boost from the Pacers. Tuesday’s giveaway is being mirrored in six other Indiana cities Fort Wayne, Evansville, Greencastle, Connersville, Muncie and Kokomo, said Bill Benner, senior vice president of community relations for the Indiana Pacers.

The holiday toy giveaway is part of the Pacers Cares program and its Season of Giving initiative, now in its eighth year, Benner said.

The Pacers’ donations will greatly benefit charitable efforts by the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, said Randy Allman, executive director of the organization.

Lincoln-Central, one of many entities working to help families in the area, plans to help 700 children this holiday season.

“It just helps to ensure that everyone’s taken care of,” Allman said of the Pacers’ toy donations. “It’s like icing on the cake.”

The donation will also help the Firemen’s Cheer Fund distribute toys to 1,300 children, co-chairman Jay Smith said.

While the firefighter organization receives much of its support from within the community, the contribution from the Pacers is important as well, he said.

“It does make an impact,” Smith said.

CSA — Lincoln students have been working to collect toys on behalf of the Cheer Fund, principal Brett Findley said.

“The biggest piece of that is understanding the importance of giving back,” Findley said. “Giving is just as rewarding as getting.”

Jenni Kelso, a pre-kindergarten teacher working with the childcare ministry at Sandy Hook Church, also called the donation an important one.

“It’s a great day for the community to come together,” Kelso said. “It’s a great day to start out the holiday season.”

Benner said he enjoyed seeing the joy on kids’ faces and bringing community members together to help others.

“You’ve got kids, mascots, toys. You can’t go wrong,” he said.

That sentiment was shared by Mayor Jim Lienhoop, who attended with Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde.

“It’s a great way to give back,” Lienhoop said.

Pull Quote

“It just helps to ensure that everyone’s taken care of. It’s like icing on the cake.”

— Randy Allman, executive director of the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, on the Pacers’ toy donations.

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or