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Originally published December 10, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Page modified December 11, 2012 at 3:08 PM

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Strangers, charity respond to toy theft at YWCA branch

Rick's Toys for Kids, a nonprofit formed by Seattle Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs and former Mariner Dave Henderson, will use its reserve funds to replace the gifts — intended for 250 needy kids in the Central District — that were stolen from the East Cherry Street branch of the YWCA. The nonprofit had purchased the original toys before thieves cleared out a storage room.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A little Christmas magic touched the East Cherry Street branch of the YWCA on Monday, hours after staff members discovered that thieves had cleared out a storage room stockpiled with toys for 250 needy kids in Seattle's Central District.

Rick's Toys for Kids, a nonprofit formed by Seattle Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs and former Mariner Dave Henderson, bought all the original toys and will use its reserve funds to replace the items that were stolen, said board secretary Bill King.

But after news of the Grinch-like theft of $6,250 worth of toys was picked up by local media, passers-by began dropping into the center at 2820 E. Cherry St. with armloads of stuffed-animal toys, Barbie dolls, toy cars and puzzles, said Nichelle Hilton, the branch's community-resource coordinator.

According to Seattle police, it's not clear when the toys were taken. A staff member noticed the storage-room door was open Friday but didn't think anything of it.

The toys, purchased last week from Toys R Us in Bellevue, were locked in a storage room Friday, Hilton said.

Monday morning, the YWCA's facilities director called Hilton and told her the toys were all gone.

The only thing the thieves left were torn cardboard boxes and a pink Hello Kitty shopping bag, she said.

"It was devastating. It broke my heart and put a pit in my stomach," Hilton said Monday.

Seattle police responded and while officers were at the East Cherry branch, King faxed over an itemized receipt of all the toys that had been purchased for the agency, one of 16 supported by Rick's Toys for Kids. King then contacted Toys R Us, and workers in Bellevue quickly began pulling toys from inventory to replace the ones stolen.

The toys should all be delivered by lunchtime Tuesday, King said.

"What these toys do for these kids is it rekindles their hope," said King, who, with his wife, Sandie, has served on the Rick's Toys for Kids board of directors since the early 2000s.

"You have to stand there and watch them open their gifts to understand how meaningful this is to these kids."

King said it's important that children know somebody cares about them, while helping parents who are struggling to get by.

"These are real human beings who are really trying and really want to change their circumstances," King said.

Over two days last week, Rick's Toys for Kids spent $130,000, purchasing roughly 9,000 toys for 6,000 kids, King said.

Each child typically receives two gifts with a combined value of $25, he said.

The nonprofit tries to maintain a $40,000 reserve fund "for emergencies like this," King said, referring to the theft.

Lego building blocks, remote-controlled cars and dolls representing different ethnic groups are always big hits with the kids, he said.

Because of the theft, the YWCA's East Cherry branch decided to postpone Saturday's gift giveaway until Monday, Hilton said.

While she's grateful for the generosity of Rick's Toys for Kids, Hilton said she feels bad the nonprofit has to dip into its reserve to buy more gifts.

"I've gotten wonderful people just walking off the streets, donating toys," she said late Monday afternoon. "I hope to be able to call Rick (Rizzs) and say, 'We're covered.' "

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

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