Thousands of bikers again amass in SE Portland, taking toys to ill tots

This massive throng of leather-clad Harley and big-bike riders didn’t come to rumble. Discover why they gathered, by the thousands, for this annual “ride” …

Hidden just below the heads and shoulders of these folks are thousands of gleaming motorcycles, ready to be ridden from SE Portland up to “Pill Hill” during the 28th Annual ABATE Toy Ride.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Earlier than expected, on the bright and clear morning of December 6, motorcyclists started filing into the TriMet bus facility on SE 17th Avenue, just north of SE Holgate Boulevard. Most of them were dressed in leather garb; some were decked out in Santa suits, as they descended on the Brooklyn neighborhood by the hundreds.

Even though the 29th Annual Toy Run benefiting Shriners Hospital for Children wasn’t scheduled to depart for “Pill Hill” until 12:30 p.m., the massive, two-block-long bus parking lot was filled to overflowing with motorcycles, dirt bikes – and even motor scooters – by 10:00 a.m. Bikes soon lined SE 17th Avenue, spilling into the neighborhood streets for blocks around.

Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Michael Gallagher and his wife Rebecca say being part of “Toy Run” has been a very rewarding experience.

Shows positive attitude of most bikers
“Mostly when you hear about motorcycle riders, it’s negative; bad news,” said one of the participants, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Michael Gallagher. He’s a district officer who also heads an East Portland Police Cadets program – not a motorcycle cop.

“There’s a huge community made up of many clubs like the one I belong to – Rose City HOGs – made up of good people, who do positive things for the community,” Gallagher observed, while sitting on his Harley with his wife, Rebecca, waiting for the ride to begin.

“I like to ride; it’s a real ‘de-stressor’ for me,” Gallagher said. “And being part of this event today is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had.”

Some bikers weren’t satisfied bringing one toy – this couple brought an entire trailer full of ’em.

Brings tears to a mother’s eyes
All along the route, Gallagher said people stop their cars to get out and wave, give the massive group of riders the “thumbs-up”, and cheer them on.

The image that stuck in his mind, Gallagher related, was “When we got up to the hospital, the son of a rider hopped off the motorcycle while his dad stopped briefly to give a sick youngster in a wheelchair a big teddy bear. Tears filled the eyes of the patient’s mother. It makes you feel pretty good.”

Helping to pack a TriMet bus stuffed with toys donated by the bikers, Harry Bede, Chairman-elect of Portland Shrine Hospital for Children, who says of the event, “It’s awesome!”

Largest Toy Ride ever
Harry Bede, Chairman-elect of Portland Shrine Hospital for Children, was smiling ear to ear as he helped stuff a TriMet bus floor-to-ceiling full of toys and plush stuffed animals.

“I’ve been involved with this event for five years,” Bede said. “The turnout today is impressive – in fact, incredible!”

The Shriners are “in the business of helping kids, and helping kids be healed,” explained Bede. “This event puts a lot of smiles on kids’ faces, and that’s the important thing.”

The final tally: 6,453 motorcycles rode in the event, and they brought 12,000 toys to needy kids.

“We offer our most sincere thanks to the A.B.A.T.E. of Oregon, Inc. and all of the organizations that help us bring health and healing to children without cost to their families,” said Bede – his voice nearly drowned out by the sound of thousands of motorcycles starting up for the day’s ride.

There’s no way to describe the feeling that the low rumble of thousands of motorcycles – and a few motor scooters – create inside a bystander as they head north along SE 17th Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood, en route to Doernbecher’s Children’s Hospital at Oregon Health Sciences University.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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