LA Bikers: 18 years of playing Santa to local kids
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Although their name might bring up images of cycle-riding California toughs, the members of LA Bikers are anything but. Instead, the group of Lower Alabama motorcyclists has earned the image of a bunch of softies who work year round to make Christmas brighter for families anticipating a dim holiday season.
The local motorcycle club recently conducted its 18th annual Toyz for Kidz Ride, traveling from Atmore to Bratt, Fla., to Flomaton and back to Atmore to deliver toys, games, clothes and other gifts to more than a dozen down-on-their-luck families.
Annie Powell, who joined her husband, PeeWee Powell, and several other LA Biker members in helping start the Christmas enhancement program in 2000, said the local ride grew out of the participation by some local club members in a similar program elsewhere. She said they learned how to, and how not to, properly conduct such a gift-delivery mission.
“My husband and I, with some more LA Biker members — we had a pretty big group then, a lot more members — started this 18 years ago,” she said. “A couple of our members had gone on a ride somewhere else and found out that you have to give the presents to the kids.”
Powell explained that such presentation helped eliminate a situation that plagued other such efforts. Numerous instances were reported where parents, after receiving the gifts on behalf of their children, would head for local stores to return the merchandise and receive cash refunds.
“When you give the presents to the kids themselves, you know the kids are getting them,” Powell said. “They open them right in front of us.”
Another unique aspect of the annual Toyz for Kidz Ride is that the children don’t have to settle for “pot luck” in the gifts they receive. LA Bikers representatives shop for specific families, not families in general, making the donations more of a personal thing.
“We get a list of names from the schools, and we get a wish list from each child, along with each child’s (clothing) sizes,” she said. “We go out and shop for the individual kids. That way, they get what’s on their lists. They get what they want, not what somebody wants to give them.”
To help make the holiday even merrier, LA Bikers also provide the family with the main course for a Christmas dinner.
“We gave every family a ham this year,” Powell said. “We used to give them turkeys, but we wanted to do something a little different.”
It was a windy, rainy Saturday morning when about three dozen riders, led by Santa Claus on a Harley-Davidson, left David’s Catfish House for this year’s ride. But the local group again lived up to its promise to deliver the gifts, “rain or shine,” to their intended recipients.
“Heck, it snowed on them last year,” she recalled. “We’ve had a few rough ones over the years — some really, really cold ones — but we’ve made it each year.”
The annual toy-toting trek once also included Perdido and Huxford, but time, along with wear and tear on the cyclists, contributed to the decision to more centralize the delivery area.
“That’s made it a lot easier for the riders,” she pointed out.
The toys, clothes and other items are paid for from funds raised each year at an auction that includes many hand-built wooden items, along with private donations received through the year.
The group eventually arrives at the building that houses her husband’s construction company, where Annie Powell and other club members and volunteers have a hot meal waiting for them. That marks the culmination of the program’s first phase, she explained.
“On the Sunday after the ride, we go to a couple of nursing homes,” she said. “We take each resident a trinket and an artificial flower. Santa Claus (actually Santa’s helper, Steve “Killer” Grant) goes with us, and he visits every patient, telling them ‘Merry Christmas’ before we leave.”
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks, who was joined this year by four Alabama State Trooper motor officers, has escorted the riders each year since he took office. He said there’s a simple reason for that.
“We enjoy helping them out every year,” Brooks said. “When you pull up and see the faces on these kids when they get their toys … It’s a lot of fun to help some of these families out. (LA Bikers) do a tremendous job of setting this up every year and get a tremendous job from the people who ride. And, it’s for a good cause.”
Annie Powell said she wasn’t sure how much longer the club — most of whose members now have grey hair or no hair — will continue the deliveries, saying that “the older you get, the more time catches up with you.”
But, she added, the rewards gleaned from the annual project make it easier to carry on.
“One of our members said that we don’t make the kids happy, they make us happy,” she said. “We bring them cheer; they bring us cheer.”