Saturday: Meet NFL Stars & Give the Kids a Good Christmas

Belmont's Carolyn Hoskins has organized this Redwood City event, in which NFL alumni pose for photos in hopes locals will bring toy donations for county kids in need.

Some star power will be rolling into Redwood City's Woodside Plaza Saturday afternoon - all in the name of giving underprivileged kids across San Mateo County a merry Christmas.

Locals will have the chance to meet former NFL stars like Jerry Rice and even pose for free photos with them, if they bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to the 18th annual Toy Drive.

Santa Claus will also be on hand to hear kids' Christmas wishes, and raffles to win prizes will also be held. Raffle prizes include everything from NFL memorabilia and autographs to children's toys.

It all takes place in the former location of McWhorter's Stationary, at 282 Woodside Plaza.

The woman behind this beloved annual charity is Belmont resident Carolyn Hoskins, a longtime family friend of Jerry Rice's and the godmother of his children.

It's a funny story how the toy drive first began nearly two decades ago - and it shows the occasional pitfalls of having such a famous family friend, Hoskins jokes.

"When Jerry and his kids would come to my house to visit every year on Christmas, all the neighbors would show up just so they could see Jerry," she said with a laugh. "So, after a while, I said, I'm going to make you start bringing something with you."

So, the toy drive started organically in that way, just out of Hoskins' house - but it soon started to grow much bigger than her walls could hold in.

"Then, after a while, we started blocking off my street and making it a block party outside," she said. "But then, that started out not being such a good idea, when one year, we had over 400 people show up."

It didn't stop there, and now, each year, Hoskins and her fellow volunteers look for a business that will lend them space for no charge around the holidays. Last year, Hoskins said they took up an empty storefront on Burlingame Avenue in Burlingame; this year, it's the old McWhorters site in Redwood City.

"We were very fortunate this year, to find this location," she said.

Hoskins thinks it's a valuable experience for families to have their children help pick out a new, unwrapped toy to bring as a donation Saturday, so they learn about helping others.

"We want them to understand how fortunate they are, and that there are some kids out there that aren't as lucky," she said.

And, they repay the families' generosity with the visit from Santa, free giveaways for all the kids who come, courtesy of local businesses and companies, and, of course, the chance to meet the NFL stars.

The toys collected in the toy drive get distributed to 37 different Bay Area charities, such as the Shelter Network, Stanford Hospital, the Boys and Girls Club of the Mid Peninsula, and many more.

Attendees can also bring cash donations in lieu of a gift, and those funds, along with money collected by the raffles that take place at the event, go toward filling in some gaps and purchasing gifts to give away. Hoskins said, it most often ends up being gifts for teens that they purchase.

"Most of the gifts we collect in the drive end up being for younger kids, so we like to purchase gifts that teens will like, such as cologne, scarves and hats, and things like that. We partner with Old Navy to get many of them," Hoskins explained. "We don't want the teens to get lost in the shuffle." 

On Saturday, the event takes place from 12-8 p.m. Santa Claus arrives at 1 p.m., and the NFL Alumni stars will be there from 2-5 p.m.

NFL Alumni stars expected to attend Saturday's event include:

  • Dennis Brown (SF 49ers)
  • Eric Wright (SF 49ers)
  • Gary Weaver (Oakland Raiders)
  • Larry Bates (Seattle SeaHawks)
  • Allan Kennedy (SF 49ers)
  • Eason Ramson (SF 49ers)
  • Mike Kirtman (Dallas Cowboys)
  • Henry Ford (Pittsburgh Steelers)
  • Tom Combs (New York Jets)
  • Mervyn Fernandez (Oakland Raiders)
  • Tim Anderson (SF 49ers)

FedEx, one of the toy drive's sponsors, will be on hand to take your photo with any of the stars, and print it out for you on the spot, free of charge, when you bring a monetary or gift donation for the drive.

All donations are tax deductible.

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