In one sense, this year’s Toyz for Kidz project — an annual part of the local Christmas season for 17 years — was just an ordinary outing for members of LA Bikers Motorcycle Club. In another sense, this year’s ride made history.
“I guess you could say this was a historic ride, because this is the first year we’ve ever had snow on the day of the ride,” said Annie Powell, who spearheads the local project with her husband, Pee Wee. “We’ve had sleet and rain before, but never snow.”
The rare winter phenomena affected almost the entire Alabama Gulf Coast, leaving icy roads throughout the Mobile-Pensacola area and limiting the number of bikes that took part in the annual holiday giving project.
“We knew the cold weather was going to hurt us, because the roads around Mobile were real slick,” said Pee Wee Powell as he gestured to the more than three dozen riders warming up their bikes prior to the run. “If it was 70 degrees, we’d have them lined around the building.”
The annual toy drive and delivery benefited 41 children from 18 in-need families in Escambia, Monroe and Baldwin counties this year. That’s why any thoughts of cancelling the event were quickly discarded.
“We had some folks who called and asked if we were still going to do it,” Pee Wee said. “I told them we’ve got to do it, no matter what comes or goes, because those kids are going to be waiting on us.”
The caravan consisted of two-wheeled, three-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles (several cars and trucks accompanied the bikers, including the toy-laden “sleigh” – actually a Humvee and a trailer – driven by Atmore Mayor Jim Staff). Bike-riders from Repton, Brewton, Pensacola and Ft. Walton eventually hooked up with the group, bringing the total number of bikes to “around 55.”
The caravan traveled to Bratt, then to Flomaton (where kids from Brewton, Pollard and other area communities also gathered) and ended up at Atmore City Hall, where the grand finale was held for children from Atmore, Huxford, Uriah and northern Baldwin County.
Pee Wee and Annie Powell noted that three families — including their own — were each represented by three generations of riders. Pee Wee, the couple’s daughter Jody Jeter and their grandson Blaine Jeter, who rode a Honda 70 on first Toyz for Kidz when he was 8 years old, each took part this year.
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks, who has carried on a tradition established by former APD Chief Glenn Carlee by escorting the convoy each of the last two years, said as the group prepared to leave that he had already cleared the red tape involved in the two-state ride.
“I’ve never been on a motorcycle, and I don’t plan on it, ever,” Brooks said. “But I take them the whole route. I’ve already gotten permission from Escambia County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office; they know we’re coming. Your jurisdictions get a little lax when it comes to giving a child in need a present.”
Pee Wee, who was accompanied on the lead motorcycle by Debora Bishop, former pastor of Atmore First United Methodist Church, said he had covered all his bases by including the police chief and the minister.
“We’ve got the law and the Lord with us,” he smiled. “The police chief is leading the way, and I’m hauling the Bishop with me.”