They may not be your typical elves — not quite the adorable pointy-hat-wearing sprites that you imagine when you picture Santa’s workshop — but the Martha’s Vineyard Harley Riders are the ones responsible for bringing Christmas joy to hundreds of Island kids every year. On Sunday, Nov. 12, a group of riders revved up for the annual Red Stocking Fund Run, then roared off, Santa (a.k.a. Panhead Mike) in the lead, for points around the Island. Their mission: Gather toys and donations for the 90-year-old Island organization.
Despite the cold and rain, about 35 Harley riders participated this year. The group’s president, Rene “Rainman” Mathieu, says that the numbers were down a bit, since riders from off-Island were put off by the early-morning freezing temps. Undaunted, the Vineyard Riders assembled in front of the P.A. Club, met with the Red Stocking organizers, and collected donations from Oak Bluffs friends and neighbors before taking off for a tour of the Island.
Members split up to visit various Island businesses, either collecting checks or thanking them for donations. At various stops, individuals also dropped by to contribute to the fund. Upon their return, the riders were treated to a much-deserved dinner prepared by a number of the wives, girlfriends, and women friends of the “elves,” and tallied up the booty. This year, the run raised around $12,000, and netted over $2,000 worth of toys, including around 30 bicycles. The grand total will increase as more checks arrive.
The Harley Riders also set up donation boxes throughout the Island, and will collect the toy contributions shortly before the distribution date. All toys and clothing must be new, unwrapped, or with tags intact.
The Red Stocking Fund was established in the 1930s during the Depression. Every year the organization distributes toys, clothing, and books for 300 to 400 children. All donations come from the community. Along with the toys, the fund provides warm clothing and books purchased with the financial donations. Every child gets a book and some art supplies, donated by local businesses.
The toys are given to families in need. Recipients are generally referred to the fund by social service providers, schools, or churches. The organizers maintain the anonymity of the families they serve.
There are numerous ways to take part in the effort. People can send a check, drop off toys at the boxes, or call to arrange a drop-off of gifts. Some individuals or businesses choose to sponsor a child. Anyone interested in this option will be provided with the age and gender of a child in need. They can purchase either clothing (sizes provided) or toys (from the child’s wish list), or both. All kids get pajamas, underwear, and socks. Parents provide a list of the most-needed items — winter coats, boots, etc.
The Harley Riders, responsible for the bulk of the contributions, have supported the effort since their formation in the 1970s. In fact, the group was started with the mission to help out local charities and nonprofits. The riders organize a number of runs throughout the year, raising money for the Boys and Girls Club, the Little League, Hospice, and Jabberwocky, among other organizations. “The people who started the club did it solely to raise money for the Island charities and give it all away,” says Mathieu. M.V. Harley Riders members often participate in other runs off-Island. Recently, a number of the local members helped raise money for a battered women’s shelter in Falmouth.
The Red Stocking Fund Run is the biggest of the Harley Riders fundraisers. It’s an effort that the members find exemplifies the spirit of the holidays. “To me, Christmas is for kids,” says Mathieu. “Nothing else matters if you can’t have a good Christmas Day for kids.”
To make a donation, send a check made out to Red Stocking Fund to P.O. Box 600, Edgartown, MA 02539, or call Susie Wallo at 508-776-6050.