ANDERSON — Early Saturday afternoon, the roar of more than 40 motorcycle engines revving to life echoed across the city’s downtown, signifying the renewal of a holiday tradition that will make Christmas merrier for hundreds of children in Madison County.
Under a cloudless sky, riders pulled away from the Anderson Eagles Lodge on Meridian Street to begin the Rockin’ Toy Ride, a nearly three-hour circuit of businesses in and near the city. Organizers included a large pickup-drawn trailer in the caravan which would hold donations of toys, bicycles and other gifts to be transported to Operation Love Ministries, where they will be organized and distributed later this week.
“It’s nice being able to help with whatever you can,” said organizer Dustin Rehmel, a member of the Chosen Brothers Motorcycle Club. “We’re just trying to make sure we can help the community.”
The Chosen Brothers stepped in to keep the toy ride going this year after the event’s founder, Kevin Hummel, decided to step away from his role. Rehmel said the club’s members discussed how they could help, and it didn’t take long to arrive at a decision.
“We said, you know what, let’s try to help out the community with him,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for. It’s to help out the kids in the county. We’re not doing it for any publicity, it’s just…trying to make sure kids still get Christmas.”
The items collected Saturday were donated specifically to Operation Love’s Christmas Wishes program, which partners with area churches, businesses and individuals to provide food, clothing, gifts and other items to families in need during the holidays. Chris Caselton, human services coordinator for Operation Love, told the bikers that their efforts fit in perfectly with the organization’s mission. Caselton said the toy ride is the biggest part of the Christmas Wishes initiative, with an estimated 600 children expected to receive gifts through the program this year.
“People know that in Anderson and Madison County, there’s a lot of people who need help despite things being on the rebound,” Caselton said. “Things are getting better, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are a lot of people who still need help.”
He added that as many as 150 families could come through the ministry’s doors next week to receive food, gifts and other assistance this week.
“We know we don’t do anything by ourselves. Everything is volunteer-based,” he said. “Everything is based on other people contributing to help the community, and that’s what this ride has done for 10 years – help kids.”
For many of the ride’s participants, the opportunity to be a part of giving back holds significant meaning, because they come from similar backgrounds as those they’re helping.
“These kids deserve a lot of stuff, and nobody else is going to give it to them,” said Michael Ray, a member of the Anderson Eagles Lodge. “Today, somebody’s going to be happy. There’s going to be a lot of happy kids.”
Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.