'Kind of traumatic:' Rent soars for Racine nonprofit dedicated to giving to kids

RACINE -- It's just days before Christmas and a Racine group dedicated to giving to kids in need worries its toy shop might not see another holiday after this year. The reason? A rent increase 27 times what is being paid now. The City of Racine is citing utility costs as the reason for that hike.

"We've been in existence since 1929," said Pete Waselchuk.

After a tour around his toy shop, you get a sense Waselchuk is more like Racine's Santa Claus.

Pete Waselchuk

"We don't have records prior to 1958. We looked and looked. But since 1958, we have distributed toys to over 47,000 families. 125,000 kids!" Waselchuk said.

As the president of the non-profit "Tex Reynolds' Toys for Tots" program, Waselchuk helps make the holidays a little brighter for children in need throughout the city. The group has operated out of the City Hall Annex basement since 1974. The 11,000 square foot space has been a blessing for volunteers who sort, clean and repair toys for distribution.

"Every child gets a box. They get a main gift, they get puzzles, books," Waselchuk said.

Now, there is worry it could all be taken away.

"It was a surprise for us. During distribution -- which was kind of traumatic to us," Waselchuk said.

Racine's Common Council is proposing upping rent for "Tex Reynolds' Toys for Tots" from $200 a year to a $5,500 annual bill -- something Waselchuk said the group cannot afford.

"I hope we can work things out. I'm optimistic. I think we can," Waselchuck said.

The Racine Common Council voted this month to extend the rent deadline until late March -- to allow more time to look into cost and space issues. Two council members, Mary land and Henry Perez, told FOX6 News they support the work being done at "Tex Reynolds' Toys for Tots" and hope to work out an agreement before spring.

Waselchuk said his group is not ready to turn the lights out for good.

"I don't want to leave this space. We are in the heart of Racine. The heart of Racine needs our help," Waselchuk said.

FOX6 News reached out to the office of Racine's mayor -- but have not heard back.