On Dec. 1, Santa arrived on a Harley Davidson after leading 160 bikers to children at Helping Hands Inc. for Dixie Thunder’s 28th annual Christmas Toy Run.
The club collected more than $1,900 to support children’s programs at Helping Hands.
The toy run is coordinated by Dixie Thunder, Aiken County’s ABATE chapter. Each year, the club and other bikers from the CSRA assemble at the Clearwater Shopping Center to ride for Helping Hands, a residential facility for abused, abandoned and/or neglected children.
The bikers are escorted by officers with the Aiken Department of Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office down Aiken-Augusta Highway to Helping Hands in Aiken.
As the bikers arrived, they were greeted with waves, smiles and cheers from the residents and staff. The bikers parked their motorcycles and found the children rushing to greet them.
Graniteville resident Mike Ludwikowski, an ABATE club member, gave a quick tour of his motorcycle to some of the attendees.
Months ago, Ludwikowski had undergone a liver transplant and had just recently been given permission by his doctor to participate.
“This is my first toy run since my liver transplant, and I would not have missed it for the world,” said Ludwikowski. “I love the opportunity to come out and give to the kids and to show people that we bikers aren’t bad people. We have some of the biggest hearts.”
A returning participant, 11-year-old Bella Keenan gave up her Saturday of fun with friends.
“I’m here today because I love to give back, and it makes me feel good,” said Keenan.
Keenan has been participating in the toy run with her grandfather, M.D. Keenan, for three years.
The bikers not only bring candy and toys but donate a monetary gift, as well. The tradition each year is to collect money to present on-site. One of the bikers in charge of collecting the gift was 6-year-old Dean Bryce. Bryce walked around encouraging the bikers to give.
Carmen Landy, executive director of Helping Hands, was moved by the generosity of the bikers.
“Given the tough times that we are experiencing, it is really encouraging to know that we can always rely on certain segments of our community to support us. It means a lot to the agency and the children.”