By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE - About 900 motorcycle Santas participated Sunday in the 18th annual Tri-County Toy Run, which collected a tractor trailer full of toys and $12,100 for children's charities in Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties.
Tri-County Toy Run committee chairwoman Lydia Cody, of Copperas Cove, celebrated in a Mrs. Claus costume after the event, which began in Temple and ended at Ogletree Gap Park in Copperas Cove.
"We had a great turnout with a beautiful day," she said. "People bundled up and little bit, but everything was great."
It took the better part of 30 minutes for riders to filter into the park, and equally as long for them to leave the parking lot of Temple's American Legion Post 133.
Riders arrived starting at
9 a.m. for breakfast provided by the post, and began to line up on their bikes about an hour before their noon departure. By the time a police siren announced the beginning of the ride, only a few bikers' Santa hats and tinsel and Teddy bear-adorned bikes broke up the sea of chrome and black leather.
Member jackets from at least a dozen different biker organizations could be seen.
Committee treasurer Jerry Caballero waved riders out of the lot, to a near-deafening roar of engines. Despite the ride's size, it's the one of the area's safest, he said, attracting people from as far away as Dallas and San Antonio.
"With 18 years of service here, we have support from all the police departments from here to Copperas Cove," he said. "They escort us all the way and block all the roads."
The 40-mile route to Ogletree Gap was dotted with community police vehicles and fire trucks, waiting to block highway on-ramps as the caravan passed.
Many of the overpasses en route were also full of riders' friends and family members, waiting to snap a photograph of the procession that seemed to snake back for miles.
At Ogletree Gap, committee members waited to greet riders with chili, and the area Christian Motorcyclists Association provided hot and cold beverages.
Representatives of the ride's 18 target charities, which will provide more than 6,000 area children with toys this Christmas, also waited to collect their loot. Toy run staff distributed boxes of toys based on the charities' sizes, in addition to Walmart gift cards that had been purchased with riders' cash donations.
Charities were selected based on their minimal government funding, Cody said.
Staff from the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Bell and Coryell County, or CASA, served 293 foster children last year. The toy run could mean the difference between having a Christmas and not having one for many, program director Lisa Wilkerson said.
"They're one of our huge donations," she said. "A lot of our kids wouldn't have Christmas otherwise."
Such children have motivated Temple resident Chet Poling to ride in the run each year since 2002.
"It's a great event for kids," he said. "It gives them a hope for having a Christmas."
It's also a good reminder of what Christmas means, he said. "A lot of people lose perspective of what Christmas is all about."
For more information on the Tri-County Toy Run, go to tricountytoyrun.org.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.