Disabled benefit from bikers bearing gifts
Waterford - A line of people dressed mostly in black leather twisted through Camp Harkness on Sunday afternoon. At the head of the line, a man dressed as Santa Claus wished the bikers a merry Christmas before ushering them into a building to deliver their presents.
A few minutes earlier, those people had filled the streets of Waterford with more than a thousand motorcycles on their way to participate in an annual holiday event that provides gifts for people with developmental disabilities.
The motorcyclists rode together from the Waterford Speedbowl to Camp Harkness, where they waited in line to pile toy trucks, games, dolls, Legos, gift cards, clothes and blankets onto a table.
Some people with developmental disabilities attended the event and were able to choose a gift for themselves. The remaining items will be sorted and distributed by case managers and social workers to those in need in early December.
"This is what Christmas is. It isn't the malls, it isn't having a list of things to buy," said Jim Costello, a biker who has played Santa Claus in the Motorcycle Gift Run for about 15 years.
Costello said he heard about the gift run, which is now in its 34th year, when he bought a new Harley. When employees at the dealership saw his white beard and new ride, they approached him and asked him to play Santa for the holiday tradition.
He and his wife, who dressed as Mrs. Claus, were in high demand all afternoon, posing for pictures.
The event is "a huge, huge help to the families in need in the area," said Vicki Severin, director of Camp Harkness. Some people wouldn't be able to celebrate the holiday without it, she said.
The event was open to developmentally disabled people of all ages. It attracted everyone from 37-year-old Lisa Trapp, who has come with her father, Thomas, since she was a child, to 10-year-old Max Withrow.
Shalene Withrow of Gales Ferry said she decided to bring her son, who has Down syndrome, to the event for the first time after learning about it through an email from the Department of Developmental Services.
When his father asked Max what his favorite part of the day was - the ride down in a motorcycle sidecar or the chance to choose a toy - the boy shyly whispered that the motorcycle ride was the best. But he was also clutching tightly to the bag that held his gift, a talking spyglass from the Disney channel show "Jake and the Never Land Pirates."
After the chilly 20-minute drive to the camp, bikers were able to warm up in the building with coffee and doughnuts provided by local Dunkin' Donuts franchises.
Wendy Davis and her brother, Shannon Mallette, of Bozrah, participated in the event for the fourth year in a row. They drove down from the Speedbowl with games, hats and scarves, and for the second time their aunt Billie Davis came with them.
Billie Davis, who donated a Wal-Mart gift card, came from Sparkill, N.Y., for the event.
"It's a good cause with lots of good people," she said.
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