Warming up the holidays

Remembering colder days, biker clubs' members help needy with clothing drive

December 25, 2005|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

Louis Wood knows what it's like to be out on the street in winter time.

The self-described former "rebel child" left home at 18, when his mother could no longer put up with his using and selling cocaine. He spent eight months homeless, scrounging for money where he could find it while wondering each day where he would spend the night.

"That's something I never want to experience again," said Wood, now 27. "You're trying to look for food, asking people for money, looking for shelter when the shelters were full."

The memory brought him out to War Memorial Plaza in downtown Baltimore yesterday with his brother riders from the Black Knights Motorcycle Club for what they were calling the first Warm It Up drive. Leather-jacketed club members, several of whom have been homeless or addicted to drugs, spent Christmas Eve handing out shirts and pants, jackets and blankets to the city's needy.

"This is the first step," said Wood, who now is working at a downtown hotel, studying finance at Morgan State University and tending to his ailing mother. "We're giving something to the community."

Dozens of men and women, many of them with children, converged on the plaza across from City Hall yesterday afternoon to peruse the donated clothes, pick up a bagged lunch and say thanks.

Dwayne Anderson, an Army veteran who lives in the Irvington neighborhood of West Baltimore, said he was grateful for the help.

"If it weren't for them, I don't know what we would do for blankets," said Anderson, 50, who stopped by with his wife Debbie and three of her grandchildren. "Our blankets were old. Being able to get some clean sheets on the beds means a lot."

Anderson said he works 28 hours a week at a neighborhood grocery store for $6.25 an hour - a total of $175 a week. He said he'd only been able to buy a few toys for the children for Christmas.

"We just paid the gas and electric," he said. "We just paid the rent. It's tight."

Reginald Perry knows the feeling. The Black Knights founder lost his job as a cable technician two years ago after he was knocked off his Honda CBR 1100. Unable to work while recovering, he spent a year living out of his van.

"It's miserable," said Perry, also known as "Street." "Night after night, you have to figure out where you're going to go, and it's cold out."

Perry, 42, started the Black Knights in 1999 to encourage safer riding and improve the image of motorcycle clubs. The club, which counts about 15 active members, has held food and clothing drives, hosted community cookouts, and contributed to Toys for Tots, Habitat for Humanity and Fallen Riders, which raises money for injured motorcyclists and their families.

"We're giving people a chance that we didn't always have," Perry said. "It's something we try to do all the time. I'd like for more motorcycle clubs to get involved."

Members of the Shiftn Steel Sportz Riderz and Mad Dog Riders assisted the Black Knights at tables heaped high with clothes. They were joined at the plaza by a group of suburban families who pulled up in minivans and SUVs loaded with similar giveaways.

"Everybody focuses on what they think Christmas is - gifts and all the commercials," said Ken Marshall, of Middle River, who came with his wife, Diane, and two of their children. "It's a lot more than that," he said. "We're doing what God wants us to do. ... There's nothing we can do for the rest of the holiday season that will top this."

Shirley Matthews, wearing a Santa cap pulled down close to her eyes, called the work of the volunteers "wonderful." The 53-year-old former housekeeper from Gwynn Oak, now on disability with schizophrenia, has eight grandchildren and a ninth coming, but said she did not have enough money this year to buy them Christmas gifts.

"I'm just praying to the Lord that they will be blessed," said Matthews, lugging a garbage bag with a newly acquired bedspread, some blouses and pants.

New Knight Ada Frost - club name: Dimples - said she hoped the club would give away clothes more frequently than once a year.

"I think it should be once every couple of months, as the weather changes," said Frost, a medical secretary who lives in Brooklyn. "It's winter now, but when summer comes, are they going to wear winter clothes?"

For the day, Perry appeared pleased with the effort.

"There's people in Baltimore who do care," he said. "New Orleans has the whole United States. Who does Baltimore have? We got to take care of each other."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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