THUNDER BAY - Tom Otway can’t help but smile when he cruises through the city on his motorcycle in a convoy of bikes with toys strapped on the back or tucked in the saddle bags.
“It puts a smile on my face because at the end, I know it’s going to put a smile on a child’s face,” he said. “That’s what it is for me.”
Otway was one of dozens of riders taking part in the 35th Annual Toys for Tots Ride in support of the Salvation Army Christmas Toy campaign on Saturday.
“This is really our kickoff event,” said Major Lori Mitchell, executive director at Salvation Army community and residential services. “This lets everybody know that Christmas is coming and the Salvation Army is active and there are people in the community who need this kind of assistance.”
The annual ride usually brings in between 100 and 150 toys and more than $500 in monetary donations. The toys will be distributed to families during the Christmas season through the Salvation Army.
Taking part this year included several motorcycle clubs from across the region, including the Harley Owner’s Club, Ontario Northwest Retreads, Superior Riders, Bikers for Christ, Widows Son Masonic Riders Association, Fallen Souls, and Veterans UN/NATO Canada, as well as independent riders.
“It’s a great time for them to get together, to show that they care for the kids in the community,” Mitchell said. “Bikers sometimes get a bad rap, so this is a good opportunity to show there is a different side. It kind of softens the persona for people and lets people see that bikers have a heart.”
And they definitely have big hearts, because it is all about making the Christmas season a little more special for families in need.
“Every child deserve a present and I feel strongly about that,” Otway said. “The Retreads along with the other motorcycle clubs, we all feel the same way. It’s excellent. This has always been a big one and it’s great to see all the support.”