The Valdosta Daily Times
Since 1993, the Outback Riders have been making a difference in children’s lives through their annual Toy Ride. Saturday afternoon, thousands of bikers, with thousands of gifts in tow, met in Lake Park to continue the tradition.
As an important part of the Salvation Army’s Empty Stocking Fund, the Outback Riders Annual Toy Ride donates thousands of new toys for the 800-plus Valdosta and Lowndes County children who are registered with the fund. The Empty Stocking Fund is sponsored by the Salvation Army, Guardian Bank and The Valdosta Daily Times.
“This is such as important event. It gives back to the community and it gives back to the children. That what we do it for, for the children,” said Ann Knight, one of the founding members of the Outback Riders.
All of the riders who participated donated at least one toy, with many donating multiple toys including teddy bears, EZ Bake Ovens, dolls and much more.
“This is great. I think it’s an important event because this means that’s one little child that I am giving a toy to. All of these guys out here are thinking the same thing,” said Ronnie Gilliard who has been riding in the Toy Ride since 2000.
Butch and Sandra Bennett have been riding in the Toy Run for 12 years and try to ride in as many other Christmas rides as possible. They explained, “There are needy children everywhere and there are parents that can’t afford to give their children Christmas. We can and we don’t mind helping out. We want to make sure every child has a great Christmas.”
Beginning at 9 a.m., bikers gathered together at the Lake Park Outlets. More than 1,800 bikes were in the ride, with nearly 2,400 riders.
As the bikers lined up and prepared to begin the ride, they admired the other motorcycles and chatted with new friends.
“The camaraderie here is great. We all have something in common and it’s a lot of fun for us,” said Louis Chester, a six-year participant in the Toy Ride.
The annual blessing of the bikes began at 1:15 p.m. with Tim Reynolds of The Heaven Saints Motorcycle Ministry saying the blessing.
The motorcycles rolled out behind their police escort at 1:30 p.m. with Santa Claus, Mayor John Gayle and the Outback Riders leading the way. As they traveled down U.S. 41 and Ashley Street, the group was cheered on by hundreds of spectators on the side of the road.
The convoy completed their ride at Five Points where they were welcomed by even more cheering fans and supporters.
“In my opinion, this means more to this community than any poker run. There are people here from Alabama supporting this. By the grace of God everyone was able to make it up for the ride. I have been riding in this since 2006 and I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” said Larry Srygley.
Once everyone gathered at Five Points, Don Brotherton came over the loudspeaker to get everyone’s attention. Once everyone was focused, Brotherton asked everyone to participate in a moment of silence for one of the instrumental organizers of the event over the last several years, Craig Pennington. In November, Pennington passed away following a battle with cancer.
Brotherton concluded the moment of silence saying, “I know Craig will be doing the big toy run in the sky on Dec. 25.”
Mayor Gayle, a second-year participant and first year biker, then welcomed everyone to the event.
“Thank you for the tremendous job that you do with this every year. There is so much work put into this. Thank you so much for bringing toys to so many children who wouldn’t have a Christmas any other way,” said Gayle.
Salvation Army Captain Monica Nickum then spoke.
“We are so excited for this event every year. We couldn’t do this without your help. Thank you and Merry Christmas,” said Nickum.
Brotherton and the Outback Riders then presented Nickum and the Salvation Army with a check for $1,100 to go toward the Empty Stocking Fund.
The ceremony concluded with door prizes and a 50/50 drawing for all who participated.
More than a full truckload of toys was collected during the Toy Ride.