Santa and rumbling reindeer hold toy run Dec. 4

Santa and rumbling reindeer hold toy run Dec. 4

December 1st, 2011 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

Instead of eight tiny reindeer's clattering hooves, rumbling motorcycles will herald Santa's arrival, not by sleigh but on two wheels, this Sunday, Dec. 4.

Hundreds of motorcyclists drive down Battlefield Parkway in a previous Stocking Full of Love Toy Run.

Hundreds of motorcyclists drive down Battlefield Parkway in...

This will be the 24th year that Santa and an army of elves have helped brighten the Christmas for local girls and boys ages 12 months to 14 years old, by leading the annual Stocking Full of Love Toy Run from Fort Oglethorpe to Ringgold.

Last year, more than 1,400 children and families benefited from this event that is sponsored by the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office and that number is expected to be even greater this year, according to organizers.

While Santa Claus (aka Det. Mike Gard) was busy at the North Pole last week, veteran biker Dave "Dr. Dave" Clemons talked about Toy Runs past and present.

"Mike and his brother-in-law, Wendall Hall, started this with a handful of riders but it quickly grew into something big," Clemons said.

He said riders throughout the tri-state area return year after year to ride, not only "for the kids" but to visit old and meet new friends.

While the earliest riders were "all Harleys," according to Gard, that is no longer the case. Now any and all makes and models of street-legal bikes or trikes (classic, chopper, cafe racer, dual sport or scooter) are welcome.

Riders are asked to bring unwrapped toys or make cash donations to provide for children between the age of toddler to 14, who through no fault of their own face a not-so-merry Christmas.

Last year's event was fairly typical in drawing about 1,500 riders who form a motorized peloton that stretches for miles as it rolls from the Cloud Springs Plaza in Fort Oglethorpe to the Ringgold High School campus.

Det. Meredith Sisk, who has been involved in coordinating appointments with those requesting assistance, said toys were given to 627 families with 1,410 underprivileged children last year.

"Cash donations can be made at any Gateway Bank, and in addition to the Toy Run, we accept toys at local schools, restaurants and retail outlets," Sisk said. "We make certain that every child receives four or five items."

Tomorrow, Dec. 1, the Sheriff's Office will begin collecting names of children from schools, civic organizations, churches and the local Division of Family and Children Services. Anyone who needs or knows someone in need of assistance should call the Sheriff's Office before Dec. 13 for inclusion in this year's program.

All requests will be reviewed, and in mid-December Battlefield Elementary School will become a command post that serves as Santa's local distribution center and workshop. Donated toys will be sorted and volunteers will purchase more toys as well as items for "tweens" and teens.

The National Weather Service forecast for Sunday is somewhat bleak: mostly cloudy with a 50 percent chance of showers and high temperatures in the mid-50s. If necessary, the following Sunday will serve as a rain date.

This year's Toy Run will be very similar to those in previous years, but it definitely will be different for many of those who give and who receive.

Clemons recounted how the tornado that struck the area in April profoundly changed the lives and priorities of those directly in its path and of those who were spared nature's fury.

"My son survived the tornado," he said, going on to describe how his son Jason and two roommates locked arms in a bathtub as the twister lifted their house from its foundation and slung them - still in the tub - several hundred feet away.

Clemons and his son will be among the many taking part in this year's Toy Run who are grateful that they can help those less fortunate than themselves.

"In 15 seconds your world can change and we look at this a little differently this year," Clemons said. "It's just doing what you ought to do."