Washington Nationals fans got the opportunity to help the less fortunate this holiday season, and they showed up big.
The ball club’s annual two-day Winterfest event featured a toy drive in partnership with Washington Informer Charities on Saturday, Dec. 10, that produced thousands of toys and gifts for city children at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest.
“The Nationals have partnered with Washington Informer Charities for years on our Spelling Bee,” said Ron Burke, director of advertising and marketing for The Informer. “They also do the toy drive every year, and since the Nats Winterfest is two days, they offered us a chance to partner with them for one day.
“All the toys that are here will be given to Washington Informer Charities and we in turn will give it to people in need in our community,” he said. “On Thursday, Dec. 15, we are going to have an event with Events DC named ‘Cozy Christmas’ at Gateway DC, where we will give the toys away.”
Each fan that donated a toy got the chance to enter into a raffle to meet a select Nats player, get an autograph and a picture.
On Saturday and Sunday, 10 raffles were held in which the winner could have a guest accompany them to enjoy the perks.
Fans also got to participate in holiday-themed activities and interactive events such as exclusive interviews and game shows on the main stage, photos with players, coaches and team mascots, youth baseball clinics from the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, batting cages, a virtual pitching game, ballpark concessions and a Jingle Jersey raffle benefiting the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.
The Nats brought their fan store to the convention center and a pop-up shop where fans purchased the latest Nationals merchandise as well as game-used and autographed memorabilia.
Shawn Bertani, Nationals senior director of community relations, said Winterfest provides an opportunity for the organization to give to their supporters and also allows fans to give back as well.
“The Nationals are firm believers that we need to be contributors to the community we’re working in,” Bertani said. “We do know that a lot of people in this area, the DMV, have an interest in the club and are devoted to us and we are devoted to them, so it’s a two-way street.
“Winterfest is a great opportunity to be reminded that warmer weather is coming and baseball is coming back and that our fans are important to us year-round,” she said. “It’s been enormously successful and we knew we had to keep doing it and that goes completely to our fans. All the toys donated today, probably thousands are all because of our fans.”
Bertani said that Washington Informer Charities served as a great partner to distribute toys because of the organization’s footprint in the community.
“Washington Informer Charities has the ability to reach people that we want to be able to help,” she said. “We look for partners that have the ability to touch lives with boots on the ground in a one-on-one way. We know Washington Informer Charities can do that and get these toys in their hands and help make a great holiday for kids.”
Outside of their annual toy drive, the Nationals organization works in the community year-round.
“We work to support military families, we work in the area of K-12 education, specifically STEM education, baseball is so full of stats, math and science that it’s a real natural fit,” Bertani said. “The other thing we work to support is youth baseball in this region, we host clinics and provide uniforms for kids.”
Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer and head of Washington Informer Charities, said they were honored to be invited by the Nationals to participate in their holiday event.
“It’s such a tremendous need to bring joy into the lives of young people,” Barnes said. “Washington Informer Charities is based in southeast Washington in Ward 8. Our program seeks to enhance literacy among children and adults and it seeks to create programs that allow children to see what the opportunities are that they can experience in life.”
Barnes asserted that the holiday season remains a great time to let little kids have fun and to understand the spirit of giving as well as receiving.
“I think it says a lot about Nationals fans, about the great turnout of toys,” she said. “I’m personally grateful for the fact that the fans recognize that these toys are going to children who might not otherwise have a happy Christmas, and that they were willing to share that experience.”