While the Halloween decorations just went up, Christmas is coming, and Santa Claus will make an appearance on a motorcycle rather than in his sleigh at the 27th annual Toy and Food Run.
The event brings supporters together to enjoy a motorcycle parade through multiple communities and raise funds, toys and food for local charities. Sponsored by A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education of Illinois, the DuKane (Northern DuPage and Kane counties) chapter, the long-running event is ultimately about community.
That’s why Naperville resident Keith Riley keeps coming back.
“A lot of it is the opportunity to give back to the community,” said the former board member and one-time organizer of the Toy and Food Run.
“We’re all members of the community, and we live in the community.”
The bikers come from all walks of life, including Riley who is a truck driver.
Each biker contributes $10 and a toy or food item. The money goes to fund safety and education programs that ABATE sponsors such as teaching motorists and motorcyclists to be aware of each other, and how to share and get along on the road.
“Motorcyclists are the most generous contributors to charities in the world,” said Judy Kaenel, Illinois ABATE chapter president.
What started as a small gathering 27 years ago as a thank you to members has grown to thousands of bikes coming together to ride in a parade and raise money, food, and toys for a number of area charities, including the St. Vincent DePaul Pantry, Family Shelter Service and Mutual Ground.
Mutual Ground is the featured charity for this year’s Toy and Food Run. The Aurora-based organization also serves the Naperville area, providing free services for people affected by domestic violence.
“We’re so happy to get any type of help,” said Debbie Bacorn, the director of volunteer services for Mutual Ground about being chosen the beneficiary of the Toy and Food Run. “Government-funded grants don’t go as far as they used to.”
However, the organization also needs to stock groceries because they keep food available to families any time of day. Mutual Ground doesn’t cook and serve meals at specified times, allowing families to eat when it meets their schedules.
ABATE has added the charity component, hoping it will contribute to the longevity of the run. The charities take part in the event, giving faces to the populations they serve.
“We want the bikers to see who they are and help them throughout the year,” Kaenel said.
They also changed their reach from working with a national charity years ago.
“Times got tougher in the local area, and we looked at local versus national charities,” Riley said. The organization focuses on helping charities in the Kane and northern DuPage counties area.
The toys are doled out in multiple ways. Some police officers keep them in the trunks of their cars to hand out to children during domestic disputes. At Mutual Ground, their toys are part of a Santa’s workshop several days before Christmas.
Moms who use the services of Mutual Ground are given the opportunity to “shop” free of charge for their children. A gift-wrap station finishes the process.
“We hope a lot of food and toys are generated,” Riley said of the run.
It’s also a day where cyclists gather socially. Sometimes they have drifted apart, but the Toy and Food Run always brings them back — especially because they have one common purpose.
While Kaenel encourages families to attend the events, she does acknowledge children might hear various swear words from the bikers, adding character to the day, but not forgetting the point of having the Toy and Food Run.
“You don’t have to be a motorcyclist to attend the event,” she said.
Most importantly, it’s about helping the community.
“At any time, one of us might need to use a food bank.”
More to come
Naperville Sun Good Causes columnist Michelle Linn-Gust is taking her inspiring work to “The Dolly McCarthy Show.” Linn-Gust, a writer, speaker and life coach, is joining McCarthy’s show with a “Good Inspirations” segment about how people can live an authentic and meaningful life. Each week she will highlight one aspect of making that happen.
Naperville’s Dolly McCarthy is known for her local charity work and as a news anchor for CLTV.
“The Dolly McCarthy Show” can be heard weekly at 9:30 a.m. Thursdays at: www.blogtalkradio.com/TheDollyMcCarthyShow. Previous shows are archived and can be accessed at any time.
This week, Linn-Gust, a Naperville native, will discuss the importance of taking care of oneself before helping others.
Read more about Linn-Gust at www.inspirebymichelle.com or follow her on Facebook under Michelle Linn-Gust.