'It really brings the communities together'

Hundreds participate in Toys 4 Tots Ride

Nathan Cobb | 315-4432 | @WaltonSunNate | nathan@waltonsun.com

More than 500 motorcyclists geared up in support of local children's groups on Sunday.  

The Emerald Coast Harley Owner's Group, or HOG, hosted its 39th annual Toys 4 Tots Ride on the Emerald Coast. Riders gathered at Sam's Club in Fort Walton Beach and rode with a police escort to the Mullet Festival Fairgrounds in Niceville, where they held events that included costume and slow-riding contests.

Each rider donated a toy and paid $10 to participate, with 100 percent of the proceeds and donations being split equally between Children in Crisis and the Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center.

"I think it really brings the communities together," said Jarrod Boerma, a Santa Rosa Beach resident who works at Emerald Coast Harley-Davidson. "There's a bunch of different people from a bunch of different walks of life. ... It brings together a lot of people that share a common interest."

Boerma said this was his first time participating in the Toys 4 Tots Ride, but that he's been riding motorcycles for almost a decade. He happily credited his ride, a Dyna Low Rider S, as the best bike there.

However, the day brought together a variety of bikes including Harleys, imported bikes, sports bikes and even scooters.

"It's not really about Harley or motorcycles, it's just about giving back to the community," Boerma said.

"Santa Karl," with an elf as a passenger, led the pack of more than 350 motorcycles.

Participants said they were happy to be doing something they loved while also donating to a good cause.

"It's for the kids," said Douglas Bollenbach, a Shalimar resident who was joined by his son, Jacob. "It's (about) giving back to the kids and letting them know that people care about them, and having a good time at the same time."

Jeff Rieger, the director of the Emerald Coast Harley Owner's Group, said that he was glad to see so many people show up. He looks forward to continuing the tradition for years to come.

Rieger added that he's continually impressed with the amount of support that motorcyclists give to the local community.

In order to not be confused with Toys for Tots, which is a program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, local organizers use a "4" instead of "for" in the event name, said Sarah Peavy, the marketing director for Emerald Coast Harley Davidson.

"It's just amazing to see them all come together," Peavy said.

Peavy said before she worked for Harley-Davidson, she would see the annual fundraiser ride, not knowing anything more than it just being a bunch of people on bikes, blocking traffic.

"Now, I see it and it has a totally different meaning," she said.