41st Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade

By Les Fortier

Photos by Jack Voss

Warming up the Windy City

Chicago, Ill., Dec. 2—On the day of the 41st Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade temperatures sputtered between 33 degrees and 39 degrees, with weather forecasters predicting that it would rain all day, which it did not—or at least not until the parade route was long complete.

In fact, as soon as the parade rounded the corner for the final leg of the 18-mile run through downtown Chicago, the sun came out to welcome bikers cross the finish line.

Once again the parade itself went off without a hitch as we spent a year planning and getting the proper permits from Cook County. We also conducted meetings with Chicago officials about rerouting bus lines in the event that we had to use an alternative route and coordinated with Chicago’s first responders who were also along for the ride.

Actual parade participation was down this year compared to last, maybe by as much as half, a product likely due to forecasters predicting not just rain but also a thunderstorm. Regardless, it is hard for me to understand the low turnout as this ride has often seen years with bikes braving the snow.

For those riders that did show up, they can still say they participated in one of the largest motorcycle parades in the world.

I have been participating and organizing this parade for many years and I am still amazed at how smooth and safe it has become. And that is not because of luck: it is from working hard to properly prepare along with time spent extensively networking.

At the parade’s terminus, we had a DJ playing in the parking lot and few of us organizers gave speeches and gave families checks. To help warm the riders, we had free coffee and hot chocolate. It was a great day and everyone was smiling.

But our stock of toys that we usually receive from the parade was very low this year, and after just a few days of handing out the donations to Chicago’s needy families, we had basically run out.

Vice President Tom Dertz, who is on the toy collection committee that manages the toy donation boxes spread throughout the city, soon put out the word that we needed more.

Before we knew it, we had a Chicago-based toy manufacturer donate $75,000 worth of toys. Then a local family-run moving company went out and bought $15,000 worth of toys, using their own trucks and workers to help stock our warehouse shelves. These last-minute donations are an example of the truly great things this great city and its residents are capable of.

To receive the donations, we have a crew of volunteers who attempt to verify that the families who send letters are real and truly represent the needy. Then we contact the family and arrange a time for them to come pick up the toys.

As I write this letter we have handed out thousands of toys to families, community outreach centers, hospitals and churches.

We couldn’t give to everyone on our list, as we had to be fair and ensure that we could help as many people as we could with what we had. Once we get more toys, we can help more people.

Toys for Tots has been helping children in Chicago for over 41 years and in that time, the charity has gone full circle. Some of those children and families that we have helped in the community have grown up and joined the organization to help others.

On a personal note, my old 1972 Harley-Davidson FLH Shovelhead made it through another parade, although my headlight and taillight stopped working on the ride back home. I will fix that before spring riding.

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