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Thousands of bikers converge on Brooklyn for 'Toy Run'

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Followed by thousands of motorcyclists, Santa himself leads the procession northward along S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard, before making the turn to go west on the Ross Island Bridge up to Marquam Hill and the Shriners' Hospital for Children there.As they have for decades now, thousands of riders of all kinds of two-wheeled motorized vehicles converged in Inner Southeast Portland for a massive parking lot rally. But, this annual event isn’t a rowdy bacchanal – it is a party for charity.

This year it took place on December 1, starting from the Fred Meyer corporate headquarters parking lot on S.E. 28th in the Brooklyn neighborhood. When participants arrived, they dropped off toys for children at the Shriners’ Hospital for Children, purchased raffle tickets for a brand new Harley, and donated money for the hospital.

Sponsored by the Southeast Portland chapter of ABATE of Oregon, Inc., the event welcomes all riders, whether or not affiliated with a motorcycle club or riding group.

“This is our 33rd annual Toy Run,” organizer Mike Friend told THE BEE. “We ended up having a beautiful day today; and having good weather really helps the turnout at the Toy Run.”

A month before, in October, organizers were concerned that this year’s ride for the kids could be cancelled. “We thought that the City of Portland just didn’t like our event,” Friend said. “But, what it boiled down to, was that they were concerned about our proposed route. They helped us reroute our ride, and have been very helpful. And, the [Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division] police have been really great, really cool.”

Another “bump in the road” came when, after years of staging at the TriMet bus yard off S.E. Holgate Boulevard, they learned it was not available, due to MAX Light Rail construction. So, they set out to find another location – one large enough to park thousands of motorcycles.

“It’s working out really great here; we hope that Fred Meyer’s corporate headquarters will continue to be our new home. The people at Fred Meyer are awesome – very generous, and good to work with. We are so thankful for them.”

Participants come to the event, Friend said, “Because bikers love to ride, but it is the Christmas season. The bikers are so generous – they have big hearts. Today we’re collecting toys, collecting for ‘Ride Against Hunger’; and we’re raffling off a motorcycle to help finance our ability to buy equipment for the kids at Shriners’ Hospital for Children. The bikers just love this; this is what we do.”

In all, Friend said, the Toy Run was helping 15 kids this year by paying for about $32,000 in equipment. “Over the years, we’ve helped a total of 143 kids.”

Barry Bede, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Portland Shriners’ Hospital for Children, was all smiles as he greeted us.

“We have more than 12,000 active patients at the hospital, and, the hospital system saw our millionth patient in October,” Bede said. “We basically build a new hospital [when needed,] so there’s no long waiting lists. When kids need help, we can get them in rapidly.”

And, as of this year, Bede said, the Toy Run participants had donated more than $600,000 to the hospital. “These people have great hearts. They might look a little rough on the edges, but they have hearts of gold – and they’re here for the kids, as all Shriners are.”

At 12:15 pm, with the Shriners’ Hospital van leading the way – and with Santa Claus riding a motorcycle behind – the riders headed west along S.E. Holgate, turning north on S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard, then turning under, around, and then west across the Ross Island Bridge – roaring up Marquam Hill for their ride-by salute at the Shriners’ Hospital. All to let the children within know that a bountiful Christmas was on the way.