Seattle Mariners outfielder Dave Henderson and Rick Rizzs, the team’s longtime radio announcer, started Toys for Kids in 1995 by collecting donations in a baseball hat and purchasing toys for 300 local homeless children. 24 years later, executive director Heather Jones is growing Toys for Kids’ reach, using Amazon Business to deliver results at scale so the organization can expand to offer scholarships, school supplies, school meals, and more—to children in need.
One question sparks a movement in giving back
Toys for Kids got its start when Dave Henderson and Rick Rizzs went out for a drink one night after a Seattle Mariners baseball game. That night, there was a story on the news about Seattle’s growing homeless population. While the reporter spoke at length about the effects of homelessness on adults, both Henderson and Rizzs noticed something missing from the story: there was no mention at all of how this crisis was affecting children.
Both men decided they had a duty to shine a light on this critical—and growing—problem.
Rizzs began calling local hospitals and nonprofits, looking for ways to help Seattle’s homeless children. During his search, he found Harborview Medical Center, which soon became Toys for Kids’ first benefactor. Before a game the next day, he passed a baseball hat around the Mariners’ locker room and the players all pitched in. They raised $18,000 to help give 300 homeless children an unexpected—and unforgettable—Christmas. Rizzs, along with Henderson and some of his teammates, passed out the toys they had bought to those children who would have otherwise been forgotten. In the 24 years since that first holiday season, Toys for Kids has grownboth in scope of the services it provides and in the breadth of their giving.
In 2019, they raised over $700,000 for 33 agencies that serve Washington’s homeless population, and they now run six different programs that help children beyond the holiday season—including a backpack program that provides children with school supplies, and programs that provide school meals and eliminate lunch debt, fund field trips, and more.
But it’s the scholarship program in particular that exemplifies the ways in which Toys for Kids has grown its mission and impact. The program grew from Henderson’s dream of giving children not just toys, but opportunity—the kind that would create lasting change in their lives and in their communities. This dream finally took shape four years ago as a tribute to Henderson after he passed away. Now, every year Henderson’s widow, Nancy Henderson, chooses an essay topic, and children from all over the state of Washington submit their responses for a chance at a scholarship.
Spearheading the organization’s impressive growth is executive director Heather Jones. She spent the early part of her career working as a publicist in music and sports, but as her career progressed, she felt an urgent desire to use her talents to do more for those in need. “I looked at my past—all my different careers,” says Jones, “and I was trying to figure out how to actually do good instead of just bringing in money for everyone.”
As she looks to the future, Jones hopes to find new and exciting ways to grow the organization with the help of Amazon Business.
A catalyst for changing more lives
Toys for Kids’ buying process started at brick and mortar toy retailers. Each agency they supported would get a budget at the beginning of the year, and when the first week of December came around, they’d start shopping.
But when brick and mortar toy retailers started to disappear, the people at Toys for Kids were left scrambling for ways to continue the program. That’s when a board member suggested using Amazon Business to purchase the high volume of toys they’d need. “From the very beginning it was nothing but amazing,” says Jones. She adds that Amazon Business’ personalized support, custom shopping links, and simplified shopping and shipping allows Toys for Kids to double the number of toys purchased.
Shopping on Amazon Business streamlined the process. Agencies are able to create wishlists based on their individual needs, with Jones gaining oversight and the ability to approve orders on a case-by-case basis. “When I open the floodgates, they push everything into their shopping carts,” says Jones. And having all those carts at her fingertips makes the approval process that much easier.
Jones also says they would regularly run into stock issues shopping at specialty toy retailers. The most popular toys were almost always sold out and they were never able to find enough diversity among dolls and action figures. “The stores would only have, you know, ten ethnically diverse Barbie dolls,” she says. But shopping with Amazon Business gives her volunteers real flexibility. Thanks to the vast selection and multitude of sellers, they’re able to buy dolls and action figures that look like the kids they’re supporting. The move to Amazon Business has also simplified shipping. Initially, Toys for Kids had to partner with another organization and borrow freight trucks to deliver their shipments. Besides being a hassle to coordinate, they were always on someone else’s schedule.
Jones says she can even tap into her analytical side with Amazon Business. Having built-in tools like Spend Visbility and Guided Buying give her a clear picture of the entire organization. She’s able to easily set budgets for every agency, ensure they stick to them, and spot trends to plan for next year.