London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
For those who believe in the spirit of Christmas, nothing is better than watching children open gifts found under the tree.
Unfortunately, for many underprivileged children in London and the surrounding area, unwrapping that gift isn’t an option. Stephen Brighton and his wife Diana, however, are continuing a nearly three-decade long tradition of helping as many children as possible.
The Brightons are chairs of the London Toy Ride, which is celebrating its 29th year on Saturday, Sept. 15. The event helps collect toys for the Salvation Army to distribute through their annual Christmas hamper campaign
The couple first worked alongside the drive’s outgoing chair in 2009 before taking over the position in 2010. It is a role Stephen Brighton said personally means a great deal to him because of his strong attachment to Christmas.
“It is my favourite time of the year. My house is decorated with everything possible. My house is on London Transit’s Christmas tour. I have a real passion that no child gets left out at Christmas time,” Brighton said. “I did my first ride in 2006; I rode for two years and then I got involved in helping out. I saw the need and wanted to be a part of it, to help make sure these kids are provided for.”
The ride involves anywhere from 50-60 motorcycles — in years where the weather was poor — to as many as 275. The riders register for the run at 10 a.m. at the Home Depot on Dundas Street and Clarke Road, by bringing with them an unwrapped toy for children up to age 13.
The ride, which Brighton said takes about under two hours, will wrap up at the Lambeth Legion with live music, door prizes and a free lunch.
The key to the ride, of course, is the toys the riders bring along — or the donations they decide to make.
“We don’t judge whether it is a $5 toy, a $30 toys. We don’t have to because everyone is very respectful; they know where the toys are going. They bring decent toys,” Brighton said. “If anyone isn’t able to bring a toy the day of the ride, then we ask them to give us a donation of a $20 per bike. Some people have chosen that is what they would rather do.”
Those financial donations, along with the contributions by various corporate sponsors, help the Brightons buy literally hundreds of additional toys. The purchases are necessary, Brighton said, because some groups of children don’t get as many toys donated.
“We get in touch with the Salvation Army closer to Christmas, find out what their specific needs are, which is usually between the ages of newborn to three and 10-13. Anything from four or five, up to 10, they are pretty good,” Brighton said. “But they do have shortfalls in certain age groups. Centre for Hope tells us where the need is greatest and my wife and I will go out and buy the toys they need.”
On the day of the ride, volunteers pick up approximately 300 toys. With the additional corporate sponsorship money and donations, an additional 500 or more toys are purchased. Sometimes, even more.
“I think last year we had 600 toys, not one of our best, but the year before we were close to 850 toys. That was tremendous.”
The first ride took place in 1984 as an effort to collect toys for underprivileged children in the London area, with the support of the Salvation Army, and that has never changed.
One reason the ride has been a success, Brighton said, is the date of the event — the third Saturday in September. “It is known for that. People make plans around that date.”
Another reason Brighton points to is the support of the riders and volunteers (approximately 50 each year), who have come to think of the event in very personal terms.
“My personal opinion is the ride has existed because this is the only ride in London that is made up of motorcycle enthusiasts and volunteers. There are no paid staff whatsoever to the London Toy Ride,” Brighton said. “I am going to say it is a passion of motorcycle enthusiasts in London and area. It is purely a passion to contribute to the Salvation Army; they recognize the need to help underprivileged kids. People come back year after year. “
While the goal of the London Toy Ride has never changed, Brighton said it has helped change some attitudes around those who make the event such a success.
“Motorcycle riders get a bad rap, we often get grouped in the same category. I am vice-president of a manufacturing company, my predecessor is a chartered accountant here in the city,” Brighton said. “We have doctors, lawyers, your neighbour could be a motorcycle enthusiast. Literally anyone can come, anyone can participate, we are all there to support London and provide toys to the kids.”
For more information on the London Toy Ride visit www.londontoyride.ca.
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