Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

December 16, 2012

More than 2,000 motorcycles rally for needy children

LAKE PARK — Though Santa Claus is in rush time with only 10 days left until Christmas, he still managed to make it from the North Pole to help the Outback Riders rally more than 2,000 motorcycles Saturday for the 20th Annual Toy Ride.

“I’m a member of the Outback Riders,” said Santa. “I do this every year.”

The Outback Riders started the Toy Ride in 1993 with the goal of giving back to the community and providing toys for underprivileged children who would otherwise not have a Christmas.

Now one of the biggest toy runs in Georgia, the Toy Ride has become an instrumental part of the Empty Stocking Fund — sponsored by the Salvation Army, Guardian Bank and The Valdosta Daily Times — in large part, thanks to the late J.R. “Jim” Hennly.

Hennly was a retired banker and avid motorcycle rider and cared for the finances and the overall well-being of the Empty Stocking Fund for more than 30 years. The Outback Riders presented a $1,000 check to Margie Blanton from Guardian Bank in memory of Hennly and his contribution to the cause.

“He was a phenomenal man,” said Blanton as she accepted the check.

In addition, the Outback Riders also presented a $1,000 check to the executive director of the Raintree Village, a youth foster home in Dasher.

Aside from $2,000 in monetary donations, the Outback Riders had a donated soapbox derby car given to Cub Scout Pack 416 in Lake Park and also helped organize the drop-off of thousands of toys Saturday to the Salvation Army.

“The main thing we like to do is give back to the community,” said Outback Rider Jimmy Land. “We’re here to help the kids that won’t have things for Christmas.”

Motorcyclist Charles E. Sheffield rode into Lake Park Saturday morning with his riding partner Pippin.

“He’s a grand-dog,” said Sheffield.

This is the fourth year that Sheffield and Pippin have rode together in the Toy Ride.

“Every year, I ride with him,” said Sheffield. “He loves to ride.”

A popular attraction, Pippin danced for approaching riders and even brought a toy to donate himself.

“I brought one from me and one from Pippin,” said Sheffield.

While Pippin was the most unique riding partner, there was a variety of Christmas-themed bikes ranging from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to a bike outfitted in pink tinsel and a pink Santa hat.

While every bike had its personality, each was outfitted with a toy that made the drive from the outlet mall in Lake Park to 5 Points in Valdosta.

“Riders always seem to come together for causes and what better cause than to donate toys to children,” said Outback Rider Don Brotherton.

It is this very cause that even drove some current members to join.

“I’m from Valdosta and seeing it before we joined, I was just amazed,” said Outback Rider Cheryl Folsom.

One “honorary Outback Rider” rode from Pensacola, Fla., to participate in the Toy Ride.

“I come up every year,” said Lyn Hart. “I got involved through a friend.”

Valdosta Mayor John Gayle might have been persuaded to join as well after Saturday.

“I used to ride a little bit,” said Gayle. “Seeing this, I might ride with you next year.”

“It’s the only way you’ll get re-elected,” shouted someone from the crowd causing Gayle to laugh.

Gayle was impressed with the turnout and expressed whole-heartedly that Valdosta was proud of all who participated.

“You are donating to children who might not even have a Christmas if it was not for what you do,” said Gayle.

The 72 degree weather might have counteracted a winter-white snow, but the generosity and compassion of more than 2,000 riders was indicative of the type of Christmas spirit that could only be had in South Georgia.

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