East County bikers ride for Toys for Tots program
On this chilly Saturday morning, at least by San Diego standards, they arrived at the designated staging point. True to the chilly temperatures, most sported leather jackets, while hoping for the forecasted higher temps later in the day. Carefully entering the staging area in a well-practiced orchestration managed by ground guides, they parked their motorcycles in neat rows, with the front wheels pointed out to enable an easy departure later in the morning. Dozens of motorcyclists, bikers if you will, were gathering in support of this year’s U. S. Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots Program. The program’s mission and goal are “to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted,” and “to deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.”
For many people, the word biker brings to mind many things, some of which are not so positive. On the positive side, however, the vast majority of bikers are well known for both their patriotism and generosity. As indicated by the military themed patches on their vests and the countless toys strapped on their rides, patriotism and generosity were certainly the themes of this day. Smiles and laughter filled the air, as they shared an early morning meal before starting out on the run, the biker term describing an organized ride from Point A to Point B. On this morning, Point A was El Cajon Harley Davidson and Point B was the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center near Miramar.
For all these folks, it does not get much better than this: motorcycling, camaraderie, Christmas, patriotism, and giving back. Several groups, like the El Cajon Harley Owners Group, American Legion Riders, Women in the Wind, and others were represented. And there were unaffiliated solo riders and couples as well. Contrary to what many may think, not all were gray bearded men, as several women (including veterans) arrived on their bikes to join in. But old or young, male or female, and regardless of which branch of the military in which they had served, they came together for a great cause.
Inside the shop, Marine veteran Matt Cochran stood by one of the Toys for Tots collection boxes. Outside by the registration table, Marine veteran Bobby Bradshaw spoke with Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant Castillo, Operations Chief for 4th Tank Battalion, the Marine command to which all the toys would be delivered. With a distinctively Marine Corps theme in the air, overheard were countless exchanges of “Semper Fi,” short for Semper Fidelis the Marine Corps Motto. With breakfast consumed and one last head call made, the safety brief was given by one of the road captains, and the riders mounted up.
Taking off in three groups, the run wound its way to the top of Mount Helix and then to the Miramar National Cemetery, where the riders stopped and reflected on the those who given their all for our country. Mounting up again, the riders headed to the Reserve Center. Once there and with the bikes parked in rows with near military precision, the important work began. Saddlebags were opened, boxes were unstrapped from the back of bikes, and the donated toys were set up between two Marine Corps tanks. As an obligatory picture was taken, the 4th Tank Battalion Inspector – Instructor, Lieutenant Colonel Storer, said a few words to the several dozen bikers.
“Because of groups like yours,” he said they are hoping to meet the need of more than 57,000 kids in the San Diego region that will be supported by this year’s program. Thanking the group, he and Master Gunnery Sergeant Castillo joined in one last group picture. 57,000 new, unwrapped toys is a significant target. On this morning, one large group of bikers made a dent in meeting that objective. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
For more information on the local Toys for Tots Program, visit San Diego Toys for Tots Program at www.san-diego-ca.toysfortots.org.