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by Leslie Katz

Erica Arteseros, former 49ers defensive end Dennis Brown, Holiday Heroes founder Amy Wender and John Hoch attend the 2019 edition of the fundraiser. | Photo courtesy of Susana Bates/Drew Altizer Photography.
Erica Arteseros, former 49ers defensive end Dennis Brown, Holiday Heroes founder Amy Wender and John Hoch attend the 2019 edition of the fundraiser. | Photo courtesy of Susana Bates/Drew Altizer Photography.

An evening of athletes and altruism — enjoyed on the field or at home — raises holiday spirits and funds for underserved kids.

After going virtual in 2020, Holiday Heroes, the Wender Weis Foundation for Children’s annual fundraiser, is happening in person on December 7 on the baseball field in San Francisco. “This year, we’re back at Oracle Park, which I’m really excited about,” says Amy Wender, who 27 years ago founded the Palo Alto organization that provides special experiences for and supports underserved youngsters.

Ticketholders and sponsored families at the bash will meet the event’s Inspiration Award recipients: Patrick Willis, retired linebacker and 2021 inductee into the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame, and Jennifer Welter, the first female coach in the National Football League and only one in the Madden NFL video game.

The lineup of heroes also includes San Francisco Giants left fielder Alex Dickerson; basketball player and coach Jennifer Azzi, a 2009 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee; and the event emcee, sports reporter Amy Gutierrez (aka Amy G) of Giants fame.

Through the decades, VIP Heroes have included Barry Bonds, Hunter Pence, Natalie Coughlin, Jerry Rice, Kristi Yamaguchi and Joe Montana, who attended the group’s inaugural fundraiser with his wife, Jennifer, in 1996.

Shreya Aghi, Vanessa Robbins and Rebecca Saroyan Robbins take advantage of a photo op with team mascots Lou Seal, Sourdough Sam and Stomper at the 2019 Holiday Heroes event. | Photo courtesy of Susana Bates/Drew Altizer Photography.
Shreya Aghi, Vanessa Robbins and Rebecca Saroyan Robbins take advantage of a photo op with team mascots Lou Seal, Sourdough Sam and Stomper at the 2019 Holiday Heroes event. | Photo courtesy of Susana Bates/Drew Altizer Photography.

Last year’s online festivities featured a visit with beloved former Giants star Pablo Sandoval as well as delivery to homes of packages filled with fun gifts and essential items for sponsored kids and families. As reverberations from COVID continue, at-home options are available again this year. Patrons can buy treat-packed Wonder Boxes that will come to their front door for their own enjoyment, and/or purchase Be-A-Hero Boxes to be distributed to 300 underserved children.

Vaccinated in-person guests 12 and older, and unvaccinated youngsters under 12 with negative COVID tests accompanied by an adult, will have the run of the whole ballpark. Partygoers can make s’mores on the field, run bases, get glitter tattoos, do arts and crafts, decorate cookies, create snow globes and watch a magic show. And, if COVID protocols allow, batting cages will be open.

Since its inception, WWFC’s efforts have benefited some 40 to 50 charitable and service organizations. Current partnerships and projects include creating a fitness zone with the 49ers Foundation, naming a room on the bone marrow transplant unit for kids at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, refurbishing a basketball court with the Warriors Community Foundation and funding a music therapy program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

The inspiration for Holiday Heroes is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Steve Pelluer, whom Wender met as a troubled teen after a game in New York. He made her feel seen at the time. When he responded to a handwritten letter she sent him, “It changed the way I looked at things,” she says, adding that, “I felt like, if that could happen to me, and I didn’t come from an underserved background, what would that experience be like, to connect an athlete with an underserved child?” With the annual philanthropic affair, Wender hopes that the lives of kids who meet their sports heroes will change for the better.


DECEMBER 7

Holiday Heroes

Holiday Heroes begins at 4:30 p.m. (VIP access) and 5:30 p.m. (general admission), and runs through 8 p.m. Donation opportunities start at $150. Visit holidayheroes.org for details and ticket information.

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