Here, The Good Guys Wear Black (leather)

Santa's Bikers Donate Toys To Needy Kids

October 15, 1990|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

Don't let the black leather jackets, the Harley Davidson T-shirts or the six-packs of Budweiser hanging from their belts fool you. These guys do have a soft spot.

Just ask Janice Lipscomb, who stood near the entrance to Fort Smallwood Park Saturday and collected toys for needy children from the 80,000 bikers who took part in the 10th annual Operation Santa Claus.

"You never know who is going to be sentimental," said Lipscomb, director of social services for the Baltimore area Salvation Army. "Some of the big guys are kissing the toys goodbye."

Many bikers interviewed said that was part of the dual purpose of Saturday's get-together. First, and most important, it was to help the kids. The second purpose was to convince people that just because bikers dress differently and ride motorcycles doesn't mean they are all bad.

"A lot of people still get the '60s and '70s idea: 'Do it up and cause trouble,' " said Steve Bowman, known as "Wiz" to his friends in the Crossroads Motorcycle Club of Baltimore.

Bowman and his friend, Aubrey Cicci, known simply as "C," took time out of the fun to pose with Santa Claus on a sleigh so a friend of theirs could take a picture. Bowman said his club donates money to many causes, including Ronald McDonald House.

Event chairman Bob Ritter said bikers are conscious of their image and hope to change it through events like these.

"Look around -- see all types of people in all shapes and sizes," he said. "There are families and children just out enjoying themselves."

And the toys donated will keep needy children happy for some time to come.

"There are a lot of Ninja toys, which will make a lot of kids very happy," Lipscomb said.

Operation Santa Claus provides the Salvation Army with most of the toys officials distribute around Christmas to children and families in Baltimore and surrounding counties.

The event started 10 years ago with 5,000 people. Last year, 80,000 showed up. This year officials were hoping for 100,000 -- the largest Operation Santa Claus event in the nation.

Admission was $5 or free with a toy. The money raised through tickets and T-shirt and food sales also goes to charity. Ritter said more than $1 million has been raised since 1981.

"We can all be proud of what we're doing here. God likes what we are doing. Look up in the sky and you can see what we were facing," said Ritter, referring to the heavy clouds that had brought rain earlier in the morning. "We can be responsible and we are responsible. We care about what we do for our communities."

It was also a special day for Salvation Army Major John Jordan, who started Operation Santa Claus a decade ago. He now works at the Adult Rehabilitation Center in Washington, but came back for the program's anniversary.

"I feel like a grandfather," he said, watching a host of volunteers sort and load the toys into two tractor-trailers. "Look at the result. The nicest gifts we've ever been able to give come from the motorcyclists."

Most of the toys were stuffed animals -- some impressive in size. There was an 8-foot bear and a 6-foot Mario from Nintendo games. Other gifts included dolls, Tonka trucks, rocking horses and games. One person donated a set of Trivial Pursuit games.

Ritter said he is trying to encourage people to donate toys for older kids and start getting away from the stuffed animals.

"There are needy children who are older and do not want to play with stuffed animals," he said. "We are looking for games and educational-type toys."

But the stuffed animals were the going-away favorite. Bob Sarrio, from Arnold, donated a big stuffed bear that he had to drape over his back to carry.

"Some kid is going to be real happy when he gets this," he said. "I wish I could be there to see it. But that's OK. I know it will go to a good cause."

Sarrio was one of the few people present who does not ride a motorcycle -- he said that for him, they are too dangerous.

He came because bikers "are looked down upon socially" and he feels they get a bum rap, he said.

Sonny Raible, a biker from Dundalk, agreed.

"I am down here to try and make the image of motorcyclists a little bit better," he said. "We don't like the bad press and the black-leather image."

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