Hazelwood’s American Legionnaires join thousands of bikers for ‘Toy Run’

It’s an amazing sight – and sound – as thousands of motorcyclists rendezvous in SE Portland for this annual ride. See who benefits from their annual event …

Riders of motorcycles, motorbikes – and yes, even motor scooters – gather for the annual “Toy Run” to support Shriner’s Hospital for Children.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As they have for decades, thousands of riders of all kinds of two-wheeled motorized vehicles converged in East Portland again this year for a massive parking lot rally. But, this event isn’t a rowdy bacchanal – it’s a party for charity.

This year, on December 1, they congregated in the Fred Meyer corporate headquarters parking lot in the Brooklyn neighborhood. When participants arrived, they dropped off toys for children at the Shriner’s Hospital for Children, purchased raffle tickets for a brand new Harley, and donated money to the hospital.

Some of the many Portland American Legion Post #1 riders gather at the 2012 “Toy Run” as they get ready to caravan up to “Pill Hill”.

For example about a dozen of the motorcyclists came from Portland American Legion Post #1 – “The Service Post” – located in outer East Portland’s Hazelwood Neighborhood. “This is a great way to be of service, and to have fun, too,” one of them said.

Sponsored by the SE Portland Chapter of ABATE (“A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments”) of Oregon, Inc., the event welcomes all riders, whether or not affiliated with a motorcycle club or riding group.

Theresa Langdon – an inner Southeast East Portland resident who works in the Gateway District – and her daughter Frances Bengtson, a Holy Family Catholic School 5th student, get ready to ride.

“Toy Run” organizer Mike Friend talks with participant Bradley Smith, just minutes before they take off to visit the hospital.

“This is our 33rd annual Toy Run,” organizer Mike Friend told East Portland News. “We ended up having a beautiful day today; and having good weather really helps the turnout at this event.”

In October, organizers worried that this year’s event would be cancelled. “We thought that the City of Portland just didn’t like it,” Friend related. “But, what it boiled down to, was they were concerned about our proposed route. They helped us reroute our ride, and have been very helpful. And, the [Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division] police have been really great; really cool.”

This participant – with a teddy bear as a passenger – heads toward the Toy Run rally site.

Another “bump in the road” came when, after years of staging in the TriMet bus yard off SE Holgate Blvd., they learned it was not available due to MAX Light Rail construction across the street. So, they set out to find another location – one large enough to park thousands of motorcycles.

“It’s working out really great here; we hope that Fred Myer will continue to be our new home. The people at Fred Meyer are awesome; very generous and good to work with. We are so thankful for them.”

Another riding group makes its way into the staging area at the Fred Meyer corporate headquarters parking lot, in the Brooklyn neighborhood.

Participants come to the event, Friend said, “Because bikers love to ride – but it is the Christmas season. The bikers are so generous – they have big hearts. Today we’re collecting toys, collecting for ‘Ride Against Hunger’, and we’re raffling off a motorcycle to help finance our ability to buy equipment for the kids at Shriner’s Hospital for Children Hospital. They just love this; this is what we do.”

In particular, Friend said, the annual motorcycle ride is helping 15 specific kids this year, by paying for about $32,000 in equipment. “Over the years, we’ve helped a total of 143 kids.”

Gathering toys are Shriner’s Hospital volunteers Allison Laurenza, Stacey Burton, Robert Miller, Jennifer Howard, Frances Berg, Tim McDowell, and hospital Board of Governors Chair Barry Bede.

“My daughter and I left our home in Tacoma, Washington, at 4:30 a.m. this morning to make sure we’d be here on time, smiled Barry Bede, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Portland Shriner’s Hospital for Children.

“We have more than 12,000 active patients at the hospital,” Bede said. “And, the hospital system saw our millionth patient in October. We basically build a new hospital, so there’s no longer a waiting list. When kids need help, we can get them in rapidly.”

Followed by thousands of motorcyclists, Santa leads the procession northward along SE McLaughlin Boulevard.

And, as of this year, Bede said the Toy Run participants have donated more than $600,000. “These people have great hearts. They might look a little rough on the edges, but they have hearts of gold – and they’re here for the kids, as all Shriners are.”

As in past years, they drew the winning raffle tickets at noon, and Sam Morris won the 2012 Harley Davidson Street Bob motorcycle.

At 12:15 p.m., with the Shriner’s Hospital van leading the way – and with Santa Claus riding behind – the motorcycles headed west along SE Holgate Boulevard, north on SE McLaughlin – under, around and across the Ross Island Bridge – up to make their ride-by salute at Shriner’s Hospital, to let the children within know that a bountiful Christmas was on the way.

Here they come, on their annual Toy Run!

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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