140 year of Shriners

140 year of Shriners

Monday, December 8, 2008

Santa Claus is revvin' to town for hospital's young patients

Annual Toy Run - About 6,000 bikers collect and escort a bus full of presents to the Shriners hospital
Sunday, December 07, 2008 GOSIA WOZNIACKA The Oregonian Staff

There's something slightly intimidating about thousands of guys and gals in leather pants, leather jackets, shades and do-rags revving up beefy motorcycles on a giant parking lot.

Except when they're all carrying teddy bears, wearing Santa hats and talking over the engine roar about kids in a hospital.

About 6,000 bikers collected money and toys Saturday in Southeast Portland for the 29th annual Toy Run. Their motorcade delivered a TriMet bus full of gifts and several large checks to the Portland Shriners Hospital for Children.

This year's turnout was the biggest yet, said leaders of ABATE, the motorcycle advocacy group that organizes the charity event. ABATE stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactment. The Toy Run brings together Harleys, Hondas, tough clubbers, mom-and-pop riders, even the occasional Vespa.

To raise money for the hospital, ABATE members raffled off a motorcycle donated by Gresham Honda. They sold raffle tickets for the charity event all year; 100 percent of the money goes to the children.

"You go out and see these kids and it changes your whole attitude about life," said Mike "Shag" Stewart, 67, a motorcycle rider from Corbett who has participated in 26 Toy Runs. "You may be depressed or sad, but giving to these kids changes you."

"Shag," clad in a black leather vest studded with motorcycle run pins and patches, was standing in the TriMet parking lot Saturday with longhaired and bearded Edd "Grumpy" Dahl from Southeast Portland, as bikers crowded around with armfuls of stuffed animals.

"Everybody looks at the patches and they make assumptions," said Dahl, another Toy Run old-timer. "But this is all about the kids, making their lives normal. This event makes you grow up and appreciate what you have."

The two bikers relived the years of toy hauls: Remember the year when a clubber took a kid from the hospital on his bike, and when they came back the clubber was crying?

Remember the girl who was able to get a job because of the communication device she received from the Toy Run?

Remember the kid who got a computer program that helped him order a meal all by himself?

In addition to all the toys, the bikers have purchased $300,000 worth of major medical equipment, including high-tech wheelchairs, for more than 70 children at Shriners over the past 28 years. The hospital -- which is funded by the Shriners, an international fraternity -- does not charge patients for their stay or treatment. But patients must find money for equipment.

The Toy Run started with nine bikers sitting around a tavern and deciding to collect toys for kids. ABATE took over a few years later and eventually came to an agreement that the toys and money would go to Oregon's Shriners hospital, rather than the Florida headquarters. The hospital serves children with orthopedic, burn or spinal injuries.

On Saturday, thousands of bikers rode en masse across the Ross Island bridge and roared up Pill Hill to the Southwest Portland hospital, headed by Santa, aka Donnie Stephens. One of the Shriners patients, 10-year-old Thomas Gabaldon, who is battling cancer, got to ride in a van with the motorcade.

Other children awaited in wheelchairs with parents and hospital staff members. They were prepped for the mind-numbing noise and leather-clad crowd that descended on the hospital. This year, Santa did not ride his bike into the lobby (as legend has it he did in past years), but he and other bikers handed out gifts, to the squeals of the kids in the hospital's rehab gym.

"The bikers are the sweetest men, they are just the salt of the earth," said hospital spokeswoman Kay Ekeya, who has helped coordinate the Toy Run for the past nine years. "Underneath the leather, they're just your typical lawyer or CEO or construction guy who loves to ride bikes. They have the biggest hearts."

Gosia Wozniacka: 503-294-5960; gosiawozniacka@news.oregonian.com

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