Toy Drive/Poker Run Nov. 3 to benefit HarborWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Toledo biker community will be out in full force at Toledo Speedway on Nov. 3 for the 24th annual Bikers of Northwest Ohio Toy Drive/Poker Run to raise money for the children of Harbor.
If the weather cooperates, organizers expect up to 900 bikers will participate. The event brought in $9,000 last year for Harbor, the largest provider of mental health services in Northwest Ohio. About 500 children who experience some form of mental or behavioral challenge will benefit, said Jean Drees, Harbor’s marketing director.
Everyone is welcome. Check-in is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Toledo Speedway. The cost is $10 or a toy donation. Organizers would prefer cash because “only certain kids can have certain kinds of toys,” said organizer Mike “Big Mike” Wenzel. Also, toys are limited to the nonviolent variety, such as arts and crafts, sports or educational. GI Joe figures and toy guns are not acceptable.
The event is all about giving to the children, Wenzel said.
“There’s no reason why our children in the United States of America should go without food, clothing or toys. That’s ridiculous,” Wenzel said. “Just thinking of a young child getting up for Christmas and not having anything to open breaks my heart.”
Participants can eat free hotdogs and hamburgers provided by Toledo Speedway, listen to live music by the Michael Fisher Band, a bluesy rock and roll band, and enter a raffle for a chance to win a big-screen TV.
The poker run is a bike ride starting at the speedway with stops at Rayz Café in Genoa and Cousino’s Steakhouse in Oregon, two of the run’s sponsors. At the end of the run, participants draw cards and those with the best poker hand win cash prizes of $100, $75, $50 and $25 for first, second, third and fourth place. The last time to leave for the run is 2 p.m., Wenzel said.
“A lot of people are content to stay and listen to the band, eat, have a few drinks and participate in the raffle,” Wenzel said. “Last year, there were 800 at Toledo Speedway and probably 350 went on the poker run.”
Turn the clocks back 24 years to December 1989 and Wenzel and a group of friends were sitting around a table at a bar, eating dinner. Wenzel decided he wanted to have “one last ride” of the season to do something for the kids. The bike run was born with a toy drop-off at the bar.
“Someone contacted Sunshine Children’s Home and they would welcome us,” Wenzel said. “That’s how we started it; one last ride of the season and it just grew and grew and grew.”
During the past two decades, there’s been some changes. At the first run, 40 to 50 bikers participated. Today, 800 to 900 participate. They’ve also had several different host sites over the years and moved on for various reasons — one was torn down and another couldn’t handle the number of bikes. Then about 12 years ago, the bike run met up with Harbor.
In the beginning, organizers held a parade complete with fire trucks and Santa, but that was dropped the past two years because of timing. Wenzel wants to hold the event closer to Christmas in spirit of the toy donation, but Wenzel said the Sheriff’s Office stops providing traffic escorts sometime in the fall. Wenzel won’t budge on the date, and might hold a parade “with or without” a police escort in honor of the 25th year anniversary, he said.
Mayor Mike Bell, a Harley-Davidson rider, has led the parade in years past and organizers said he is expected to participate in the bike run this year, which falls two days before the Nov. 5 election. Bell is running against Councilman D. Michael Collins.
The fundraiser typically brings in between $5,000 and $12,000, Drees said. The money goes to children in Harbor’s school program who may have issues with anxiety disorders, anger or post-traumatic stress disorders. They’re given a toy or a $15 gift card to Wal-mart. Children in general treatment working through issues such as divorced parents will get a gift car or a donated toy as well.
“The kids might have a challenging home life and they just don’t have a lot,” Drees said. “We try to give them back something of value.”
Next year – the 25th anniversary — may be the last for the Northwest Ohio toy run. Wenzel said it’s time for one last “hurrah” now that he’s 63 years old.
“I’m thinking about having one last parade and making it a big deal,” Wenzel said. “Twenty-five years is a long time to do anything. The girls at Harbor will probably try to talk me out of it because it’s a big family for them. … I guess I’ll just have to play it by ear, but I’m kind of planning on next year being my last.”