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Bikers kick off Toys for Tots campaign (6 photos)

Ride raises gifts, donations for Salvation Army Christmas campaign

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s biker community was out in force over the weekend to lend a hand to the Salvation Army’s Christmas toy campaign.

Members of several local motorcycle groups turned out for the cause Saturday, delivering gifts and monetary donations for the campaign at Current River Park following a ride through the city that started at Thunder Bay Harley Davidson.

The annual tradition is the kick-off for the Salvation Army initiative that helps local families provide gifts for their children over the holidays.

Executive Director Gary Ferguson noted bikers have long provided key support to the organization.

“The biker community always has a big heart,” he said. “Whenever something’s needed, we always see that happen.”

Saturday’s ride also honoured Tom Otway, a former president of the Ontario Northwest Retreads. Otway had long been a major booster of the event.

His brother-in-law, James MacDonald, rode Otway’s bike, bearing his ashes, at the head of the procession. His wife, Kathy Otway, was appreciative of the tribute.

“We just knew when he passed, it was something he was looking so forward to,” she said. “It was very fitting that they allowed us to bring him along and have him do his final ride with this event that was so very near and dear to his heart.”

Fellow club member Lorne Rapkoski said the annual event was just one way his close friend had given back to those around him.

“You could count on him to put everything on hold to look after everybody else – he came second,” he said. “You can’t say enough for a person like that. When we lost Tom, we lost a big part of the club.”

Other participants said the event was an example of the biker community’s positive role in the city, despite some stereotypes to the contrary.

“It’s just proof that the biker community really does want to help out,” said Jeremy Haneca, who rides with the Canadian Motorcycle Cruisers.

Haneca had purchased enough items to fill two sacks for the campaign, including a toy motorcycle.

“I think a lot of people have false impressions of what we do and who we are. You look at the groups here and every single one of them is always involved with some kind of charity. It’s a big deal to us.”