DENVER -- Monday evening marked the third annual 16Ways Foundation's Toy Drive.
The event has steadily grown and improved each year, said its host, linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
"It's been pretty successful," Woodyard said. "The first year we threw it together in two weeks. The next year we threw it together in two or three months and this year we had a longer time. So it grows every year. The community comes out and supports in amazing ways."
One indication of the project's importance was the presence of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who said he is impressed by the role that Woodyard plays in the community.
"This is awesome," Hancock said. "Because of Wesley Woodyard and his foundation's work, many kids are going to wake up Christmas morning with gifts that they otherwise would not have had. I'm grateful as the mayor of the city and as someone who lives in the city that someone like Wesley would step up and say, 'Let's take care of those kids who are less fortunate.'"
Monday evening's drive collected hundreds of toys brought to a dinner held at the Downtown Aquarium. Guests were able to meet Woodyard and a number of his teammates, take pictures with Santa Claus as well as cheerleaders Kara and Lauren, participate in a silent auction and tour the aquarium. It was all put on by Woodyard's 16Ways Foundation, which reaches out to underprivileged children in the Denver community.
"It's something that me and my family have been doing for a long time now," Woodyard said. "Basically we give back to the community and try to uplift our community. This is what it's all about, giving back. My 16Ways, we reach out to at-risk kids and we help out families in the community."
Woodyard said the event highlights what he considers to be the most important aspect of the holiday season.
"It's extremely important," Woodyard said. "It's something that I've been doing for a long time, giving back. This time of the year, it's always about kids. It's always about other people than yourself. It's the season of giving and it's definitely something that we call on the community of Denver to show up and bless the community."
The toys included footballs, basketballs, baseballs, toy cars, dolls, board games, Legos, Spiderman masks, Transformers toys, other action figures and erasers. All of the gifts will be distributed to foster children from the Department of Human Services and The Tennyson Center. Even more than the process of collecting the toys, it's the act of putting them in the hands of needy children that Woodyard enjoys the most.
"It's not even tonight that makes it go," Woodyard said. "It's the day after that, when I get the chance to take the toys to the actual Tennyson Center and see the kids' faces. When you experience something like that, it changes your life completely and it's just something that I love doing."
In addition to the participants and the toys that surrounded a Christmas tree in the corner of the room, the event attracted a number of Woodyard's teammates, including defensive ends Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, safeties Mike Adams and David Bruton, running back Knowshon Moreno and cornerback Tony Carter.
The crowd of teammates who joined Woodyard showed the impact that the linebacker's commitment to the community has on his peers.
"He's a true man of his word," Carter said. "The things he does, he doesn't do it for just show or anything like that. He does it because he cares from his heart. He's definitely inspired me and I'm sure he inspires a lot of other guys to go out and do more. That's where your blessings are coming from."
Woodyard's organization of the toy drive was merely the latest example of his extensive work in the community. The winner of the Broncos' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in both 2010 and 2011, Woodyard's efforts have impressed Hancock as much as anyone in the Denver locker room. Woodyard and Hancock also recently teamed up at a photo shoot for Denver's Road Home program, which assists the homeless.
"We're here tonight, dealing with getting children in our community who are challenged gifts for the holiday season," Hancock said. "This guy's all over the place giving back. He's not asking anything in return. He would rather diminish his role and his celebrity in order to make sure people that recognize it's about the kids first. I'm proud and excited. This is why the Broncos do what they do as far as picking men who play for the team who have high character."