Seahawks players, coaches, and staff took part in the annual 'Prime Time' celebrity waiter event on Thursday, April 20 to benefit Ben's Fund, which provides financial assistance for services related to autism spectrum disorder treatments.
Every time Alex Collins walked by, he had a new tray of food in his hand. The various appetizers, ranging from steak bites to chicken skewers to ahi tuna, weren't for the Seahawks running back, who is notably slimmer now than he was last season, however. Instead, he was hustling to try to earn more Ben's Bucks, the currency far more valuable than cash on this night as players competed with each other while also supporting a very worthy cause.
For the sixth year, John and Traci Schneider hosted Prime Time, a celebrity waiter event that raises money for Ben's Fund, the nonprofit they named after their oldest son, Ben, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old.
Throughout the night at El Gaucho in Bellevue, players posed for pictures, signed autographs or made phone calls to friends or family members of guests in order to earn Ben's Bucks, which guests could purchase for $12 each. To no one's surprise, Russell Wilson, often flanked by his offensive linemen, including a noticeably bigger George Fant, had the longest line for an autograph.
With a silent and live auction and other donations, this year's Prime Time raised more than $665,000 that will help Ben's Fund and FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment) of Washington give out $1,000 grants to families affected by autism. Since Ben's Fund launched, in 2012, more than 1,100 grants totaling over $1 million have been given out across the state.
"We never could have imagined that it would have taken on the life that it has and grown into something so big, so fast," Traci Schneider said. "It has just been amazing. For us to have the capability to turn around and give those grants away and not have to turn people away because we didn't have the funds to support their requests and their needs, it's pretty special."
Much of Seattle's roster was in attendance to serve as celebrity waiters, and one player who could really appreciate his first Prime Time was receiver Kenny Lawler, who had an autistic uncle live with his family with he was 8 or 9 years old.
"I really appreciated it, because I can relate to the cause," said Lawler. "I have an uncle who's autistic who lived with us when my grandma got sick. I really enjoyed the event, there were great people there, it was a great event for a great cause."
When the Schneiders addressed the crowd in a pre-dinner speech, the support of all the players was one topic Traci Schneider was quick to point out. There were also lighter moments like when she asked the audience if they wanted to know who the Seahawks will draft next week, or when she embarrassed their youngest son, Jack, by pointing out how dapper he looked in his tuxedo with sneakers, a look he pulled off quite well. But at its core Prime Time was yet another event that highlighted the family atmosphere within the franchise that Schneider, Pete Carroll and ownership have cultivated.
"It's huge because it's part of our fabric, what we're doing here," Schneider said. "We preach taking care of our players, taking care of our people, then for them to turn around and take a night out of their lives, come down here and help us out, help these families out, it's amazing."
Added linebacker K.J. Wright: "That's just the culture here, it's the environment that we set. We all love each other, we all care about what each other are doing on and off the field. We'll always be there for each other, that's what I love about being here. It has just been instilled in us to always support one another."
The support was also evident from what Schneider described as a "very, very giving community." People didn't hesitate to place five-figure bids on items ranging from a trip for two on the team charter to a road game, to a private dinner at El Gaucho with the Schneiders, to a walk-on role in HBO's series "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
"I thought it was amazing," Collins said. "It was a really cool experience. I look forward to doing it again. It was a lot of fun just interacting with everyone and seeing smiles on everybody's faces.
"You could just feel that family atmosphere."