Santa trades in his sleigh

Published 3:13 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Santa's reindeer were no where to be found in Atmore Saturday as jolly 'ole St. Nick took the lead of more than 50 motorcyclists who followed him with a trailer loaded down with toys for local boys and girls.
Although, the sight of Santa Clause riding motorcycle was a bit unusual for the children who received an early Christmas due to the goodwill of the L.A. Biker's Toys for Tots toy drive, they welcomed him just the same with open arms.
Atmore bikers were joined by bikers from Gulf Shores, Pace, Fla., Brewton, Seminole, Bon Secour and even as far away as New Orleans for the annual toy drive.
"This is our sixth year," L.A. biker Pee Wee Powell said. "I'll never forget our first ride. It was 29 degrees outside and we went to Huxford. A little boy came running out in a short sleeve shirt and jeans with no shoes on and jumped on the bicycle we gave him and took off full force down the road."
Powell gives his neighbor and friend, Keith Strawbridge the credit for starting the annual event. Strawbridge serves as the president of the local biking club.
"Keith is my neighbor and we work together," Powell said. "We both like riding and got to talking several years ago and decided to put this event together. He loves children as much as I do and wants to do what he can to help them out."
According to Powell, his daughter Jody along with other members of the club, began preparing for the toy drive in October.
"Jody does all of the leg work," Powell said. "She calls the churches and schools in search of families who may need some extra help during the holidays. We want to help families who are working and they can't seem to get over the hump and just need a little extra help to make it through."
Once the families are selected they are contacted by the club members to get a 'wish list' for their children, including names, ages and sizes of course.
With 'wish lists' in hand, the bikers , who like to shop of course, head out with money that they have all donated to purchase the Christmas gifts.
New Orleans residents Bill Turner and Paula LaChica made the three hour trip by car to join the toy drive for the second year in a row.
"We have a friend here who lets us use their bikes," Turner said. "We came last year after some of our friends rode in it. When we saw that it does so much good for people we couldn't say no. Sometimes to give money for different things and you never know where that money goes. At least with this, you can see it and see the people who are helped by it."
LaChica, who admits to being a 'hard-core' biker, said that the toy drive will be a tradition for the biking duo.
"We will be back next year," LaChica said. "This is our new tradition. We love meeting the people and enjoy everybody's company. This is really a good thing."
The group was able to see the gifts that their donations had bought, but for most it wasn't the actual gifts that impressed them so. It was the sight of more than 15 children of all ages, tearing into the presents and squealing with joy when they realized it was exactly what they had wished for.
From bicycles, clothing, gift certificates for parents, basketballs, baby dolls and even PlayStation 2's with games, the expressions of the parents and children on the receiving end of the toy drive said it all for the bikers.
Three of Saturday's bikers have only been riding for six months and the toy drive was their first joint venture. They felt that they were doubly blessed.
"This is truly a blessing," Penny German said. "If you have a cold heart this will warm it up. This (as she watched the children opening their gifts) is what Christmas is about."
Her daughter Chasity and nephew, Matthew Dennis, echoed that sentiment..
"There is nothing like this," Chasity German said. " This is what it is about. We just started riding and we are having so much fun with these guys. Were not intimidated at all by male riders and their experience. We are ready and loving it."

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