Bikers rally to collect gifts for The Salvation Army
MANCHESTER - Santa's helpers got a head start on the Christmas season at the 30th annual Toy Run for The Salvation Army on Sunday.
'It's everybody coming to the rescue,' said Steven Tarbox, with the American Legion Riders.
More than 1,000 motorcyclists joined the ride that started at the Department of Safety in Concord and headed down to the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News offices in Manchester. The event is a yearly tradition for the New Hampshire Motorcyclist' Rights Organization, which helps bring out the many clubs and riders for the event. It is also the kickoff event for the Union Leader Santa Fund efforts to help The Salvation Army. Each rider brings at least one toy to donate to The Salvation Army.
Mark James and Barbara Putnam of Antrim came with a Harley-Davidson loaded with toys, pulling a trailer that was also full.
'It's nice to be part of something where the end result is so rewarding,' Putnam said.
James collects toys for the ride throughout the year, beginning with the day after the last ride.
'From the day we end up here at the Toy Drive, we start collecting again,' he said.
This year he brought dozens of stuffed animals strapped to the bike with twine, games and other toys in the trailer as wells as two bicycles and a big wheel. James said he was once given a toy as a child and wants to help give back.
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas was on hand to thank the riders for their generosity.
'It's absolutely incredible seeing this many people care that much for children,' Gatsas said. 'It's a great day when you can get this many people to be thankful and giving.'
Along with the riders clad in black leather, mostly on Harley's, Salvation Army Lt. Herb Rader made the trek on his Yamaha FJR 1300.
'I love the bike,' he said. 'I've been riding since I was 11.'
Rader said the event always makes a big difference in the lives of children.
'This is huge,' he said.
His wife, Lt. Miriam Rader, said The Salvation Army helped more than 900 families last Christmas, in large part thanks to the Union Leader Santa Fund. The Salvation Army in Manchester is seeing a greater number of children and families who need help, she said.
'It goes up every year,' she said. 'We fed 140 kids every day this week at our supper club.'
Shannon Sullivan, Union Leader community relations manager, said the ride gets the whole Santa Fund effort a big push in the right direction.
'It's a really important start to the holiday season,' she said.
While most people know about the Union Leader Santa Fund for The Salvation Army giving children toys, socks and underwear for Christmas, the fund also gives their parents a grocery store gift card, so the family can enjoy a special Christmas meal.
The fund also gives meals to seniors and the infirm, as wells as providing camp opportunities for inner-city children and other programs.