Toys for Tots ride draws 236 bikes, raises $17,500 and a thousand toys

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The Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots Program in San Diego received 1,100 toys and $17,500 from a special event that began in El Cajon.

On Nov.18, the 5th Annual El Cajon Harley Owners Group Toys for Tots Ride, conceived, planned and led by retired Marine and El Cajon Harley Owners Group member Mike Harris, produced these great results.

The largest ride to date, with around 30 bikes in 2014, the event has grown considerably, with 236 bikes starting out from El Cajon Harley-Davidson this year: destination, the Del Mar Race Track.

The Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots Program in San Diego received 1,100 toys and $17,500 from a special event that began in El Cajon.

On Nov.18, the 5th Annual El Cajon Harley Owners Group Toys for Tots Ride, conceived, planned and led by retired Marine and El Cajon Harley Owners Group member Mike Harris, produced these great results.

The largest ride to date, with around 30 bikes in 2014, the event has grown considerably, with 236 bikes starting out from El Cajon Harley-Davidson this year: destination, the Del Mar Race Track.

The lead planners, Harris of El Cajon Harley Owners Group, Sheryl Kerstiens of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, and Marine Corps Staff Sergeant (now Gunnery Sergeant) Jeff Cantu, San Diego Toys for Tots Coordinator, worked for months putting together this complex event.

Their focus meeting the Toys for Tots Foundation objectives are to “help less fortunate children throughout the United States experience the joy of Christmas; to play an active role in the development of one of our nation’s most valuable resources – our children; to unite all members of local communities in a common cause for three months each year during the annual toy collection and distribution campaign; and to contribute to improving communities in the future.”

With support from local businesses and organizations, the El Cajon Police Department, and Heartland Fire and Rescue, the Ride was a rousing success. Hundreds showed up at El Cajon Harley-Davidson where General Manager Brett Dickinson and Marketing Manager Niki Kastlunger opened early that Sunday to host the Ride.

For the unheard-of registration fee of $15 and (at least) one new, unwrapped toy, participants enjoyed a full breakfast sponsored by the El Cajon Elks and Lloyd’s Collision and Paint, with Motorcycle Monkey coffee provided by local KGB-FM radio personality Clint August.

The first 250 to register received a special commemorative challenge coin sponsored by El Cajon Harley-Davidson and a complimentary opportunity drawing ticket.

During registration and breakfast, more opportunity drawing tickets were sold, with 100 percent of the proceeds donated to Toys for Tots.

Two crucial planning objectives were the safe departure from El Cajon and a patriotic beginning, so ride organizers reached out to the El Cajon Police Department and Heartland Fire and Rescue, seeking motor officer escort to safely lead the bikes out of El Cajon and fire apparatus hoisting aloft a large American flag, under which the bikes would roll.

Prior to departure, Harris led the riders in the Pledge of Allegiance, and was followed by California State Senator Joel Anderson spoke to the riders, thanking them for all they were doing, as he handed out Certificates of Appreciation to some of the volunteers making the event possible. (Senator Anderson has a family Marine Corps connection, with a brother who is a retired Marine Corps Major General.)

Then it was time to head for the bikes.

Departing El Cajon Harley-Davidson, the group ride was led out by El Cajon motor officers and passed under a large American flag held aloft by fire apparatus and a crew from Heartland Fire and Rescue. Next stop the Del Mar Race Track. One heck of a send off by El Cajon first responders.

This was this the second year the Ride destination was the Del Mar Race Race. The DMTC really stepped up, providing the riders special motorcycle access, free parking is a separate area, free admission (with the donation of a new unwrapped toy), free grandstand seating, and use of the Corona Beach House patio at the track.  Everywhere one looked, Toys for Tots banners were prominently displayed. At the Stretch Run Gate, the riders were greeted by two Marine Corps tactical vehicles and uniformed Marines and sailors of 4th Tank Battalion and 4th Medical Battalion collecting the donated toys, which volunteer sailors counted and loaded for transportation to the Maine Reserve Center.

A very special component was that anyone coming to the track that day, not just Ride participants, received free Stretch Run admission with the donation of a new unwrapped toy.

The highlight was the dedicated horse race, the fifth race of the day, the Del Mar Tots for Tots Ride.

Leading up to the race, the 1st Marine Division Band marched onto the track and performed a rousing version of “God Bless America.”

In the Winners Circle after the race, Sheryl Kerstiens of the DMTC was joined by Mike Harris; senior Marines Colonel Dockery, Lieutenant Colonel Smith, Sergeant Major Walton, and Sergeant Major Exlos; and others for a special ceremony. Holding up the large “presento” check, they informed the crowd the El Cajon HOG Toys for Tots Ride participants and Del Mar Race Track patrons had together raised more than $13,000 for the local Toys for Tots Program, easily topping the 2017 result of $8,600.

But the crowd was not done: in the end, more than $17,500 and 1,100 toys were ultimately donated to the San Diego area Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots Program.

This most worthwhile, successful event started in El Cajon, with support from local businesses and organizations and a wonderful send off provided by local first responders.

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