Thousands of bikers swarm in SE, to benefit Shriners’ kids

It wasn’t Sturgis, but inner Southeast Portland, where more than 3,000 leather-clad bikers gathered. They weren’t there to rumble. Read this article and you’ll find that even the toughest-looking biker-brothers have a soft spot for sick kids ‚Ķ

Even organizers say they were surprised, and pleased, by the turnout for the 2006 Toy Run for Shriner’s Hospital.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The sun glints off acres of chrome as motorcyclists ‚Äì yes, leather-clad bikers ‚Äì gather by the thousands in a parking lot at SE 17th Avenue and Holgate Boulevard. A band, “Much More Country”, belts out a patriotic-themed tune a city block away from we stand, at the far end of the TriMet bus facility in S.E. Portland.

“Is a riot or rumble about to break out?” we wonder. We ask who is in charge. “Santa Claus, of course!” is the reply. A feeling of relief floods over us.

Through a sea of over 3,000 parked Harleys and other bikes, we’re led to a jolly, white-whiskered St. Nick. Santa is sitting on his ride, a purple Harley-Davidson Road King he calls “Barney”. He’s attended by three stylish lady elves.

Santa and his elves are the official ambassadors for the ABATE Toy Run for the Shriner’s Hospital.

“Ho, ho ho! Welcome to the annual Toy Run for the Shriners’ Hospital, my boy,” greets Santa. “This event has gone on for years, on the first Saturday in December. We love going to the hospital and giving the kids gifts. I love everybody that participates in this.”

Shriners’ Hospital spokesman Fred P. Swansoan stands among the bikers gathered to help kids at their facility.

Event aids Shriners’ mission
Fred P. Swansoan, a volunteer van driver for Shriners’ Hospital, is wearing his organization’s trademark red fez. “This event is truly the big deal of the year for us. Both the toys and cash generated by this event plays a significant role in our mission to help children with severe medical needs. Underneath those leather jackets and chaps, you’ll find folks with big hearts; people who care about kids.”

The chaplain intones the event’s blessing, saying, “We wish everyone who came here has safe rides, health, good spirits, and a long life.”

Participant John Kachur says this is a way bikers give back to their community.

A tall, burly biker, John Kachur, is getting ready for the ride that will take them up “Pill Hill” to the hospital. “This is a lot of fun,” he tells us. “What a great day to get out! Look at the bikes and the people.”

We ask why so many motorcyclists, like him, are participating. “The connection is, we care. Pretty much everybody has had a kid, or has known a sick kid at one time or another. This is a fun way to give back to the community,” Kachur says as he roars his Harley thunderously to life.

Because only a few of the thousands of bikes will actually fit in the parking area in front of the hospital, Girl Scout Troop 1561 in Gateway helps stuff toys the bikers brought to the rally point in a TriMet bus for delivery to the kids.

As the bikes rev up by the thousands, the percussive energy they radiate can be felt through one’s body as much as it can be heard.

The gate opens, and the bikers form a rolling parade out of the lot, heading north on S.E. 17th Avenue to Powell Boulevard, across the Ross Island Bridge, and up the hill to the Shriners’ hospital.

Four abreast, the thousands of bikers start their journey toward Dornbecher Hospital from their rallying point in inner Southeast Portland.

Changing the image of bikers
This event, we learn, is sanctioned by A.B.A.T.E. of Oregon, Inc. (“A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments”). Mike Friend, this year’s event coordinator suggested we talk with 16 year veteran of the event, Ed Dahl.

“26 years ago, ABATE was started by motorcycle clubs to lobby for cyclist rights,” Dahl explains. And, 26 years ago, twelve people decided to do something charitable. It has grown into this.”

More than just bringing toys, the Toy Run also raises funds that help the Portland Shriners’ Hospital buy specialized equipment, such as communication computers and power wheel chairs, and to provide van conversions. “We’re trying to give these kids things to help them become more self-sufficient.”

Part of the event is an annual raffle. This year’s grand prize was a new Harley. “In addition to the toys, we gave $45,000 worth of equipment to eight patients. And, we collected another $6,000, on the day of the run.”

What most people don’t see, Dahl tells us, is that the patents give them a gift list. “We do our best to fill the orders. The night before the Run, we go up to the hospital, wrap gifts, and have them ready for Santa.”

Just a cool photo of the bikers ready to make their ride up Pill Hill.

Yes, there is a Santa
Dhal recalls a boy at the hospital who said he didn’t believe in Santa. “When he opened his gifts, and found his wishes fulfilled, he looked up with big eyes and told us, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I do believe in Santa.’ Times like this will put a tear in your eye.”

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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