Huntington, N.Y., Apr. 19 — The weather could not have been any nicer for the 3rd annual Easter Basket Ride, sponsored by the Long Island Harley Riders. The April sun was warm with a slight Long Island breeze when more than 50 motorcycle-riding members showed up at the Nathan Hale VFW Hall on the day before Easter Sunday. The ride has been a tradition for more than 10 years for many of the people who were present this day. For the first eight years, we did it as members of the Lighthouse Harley Owners Group, but a few years ago the dealership regretfully closed and that meant the end of the chapter. But, that did not stop the members of the defunct chapter from contacting the American Motorcyclist Association, obtaining an AMA club charter and continuing to ride together as a new club.
The annual ride to the Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, Long Island, New York, is to benefit the children who would be spending part or all of Easter weekend in the hospital. L.I. Harley Riders members brought large- and medium-sized stuffed animals (mostly rabbits and chicks), games, puzzles, dolls, remote-control cars and anything a boy or girl might like. There were also smaller stuffed animals for the infants. The group did not want to leave anyone out, including the staff, who would be working the holiday weekend. For them there would be plastic Easter eggs stuffed with jellybeans and lots of yellow chick and blue rabbit “Peeps.”
At 11:00 a.m. the club’s own “Biker Bunny” (a.k.a. this author) fired up his “bunny hog” and, with his ears sticking out the top of his helmet, signaled to the group to line up behind him. Then the members of the Suffolk County Police Second Precinct, who have assisted and supported the club the majority of the years of this event, led the group on their merry way. We snaked our way through Huntington and down to the westbound entrance of the Long Island Expressway. Fifty motorcycles is a head turner, but a 5’8″ rabbit leading the procession while riding a motorcycle made heads turn even more. At the entrance to the LIE, Head Road Captain Mario Ruffolo moved up next to Biker Bunny to help safely guide the ride through Nassau County and to the hospital.
It was impressive to experience how well the road captains worked together for the second half of the ride to get all those riders safely to their destination. What would any large club group do without those riders who volunteer to be road captains and take on that responsibility?
As our group reached the hospital and turned into the main entrance we were guided by security to a reserved parking area set-aside for the L.I. Harley Riders. Up in the fifth floor lobby window you could see the children looking out from the pediatric wing, jumping up and down and waving to the bikers and their mascot for the day. The bikers returned the kids’ enthusiasm before two members of the hospital’s Child Life Program, Imogene and Gayle, met the group and escorted us into the hospital. As Biker Bunny walked through the hospital he stopped to say hello to staff members and visitors in the lobby. Everyone got a jelly bean egg.
Some people even wanted a picture taken with Biker Bunny and some of the bikers. Once we reached the recreation room, there sat some of the kids eagerly awaiting a visit from the bunny and the bikers. Each child got a gift from a member of the biker group and some time with the bunny and bikers. The look on the faces of the children, some with IV bottles hanging over their heads, was precious. For just a few minutes they could forget where they were and be happy.
Bikers were split up into groups of five or more and, along with Biker Bunny, visited kids in every room on the floor. Even the children in isolation each received an Easter gift. The group stopped for many photo ops with the kids and parents since most parents had their cell phones with them. The parents all seemed so grateful for our visit and, no matter how sick their child was, they had a smile and a thank you for the small, visiting group.
When asked by a News 12 television correspondent about coming to the hospital, Fred Hartmann, the president of the L.I. Harley Riders, said, “We are here to bring stuffed animals, games and cheer to the children.”
At the conclusion of the visit, the club members assembled in the parking field and headed over to a nearby Famous Dave’s restaurant to enjoy lunch and talk about the day’s visit. I could not think of a better way for anyone to start off the riding season and their Easter holiday. I’ll bet more than one of the members went home and gave their child or grandchild a hug. And a few days later, I got an e-mail from Nicole Almeida, director of the Child Life Program, who described the visit as “Fabulous.”
At the end of November, the L.I. Harley Riders will hold our second holiday ride for children in 2014; the ride to the Sagamore Children’s Psychiatric Center in Dix Hills, Long Island, to deliver holiday presents.