After participating in toy runs hosted by other American Legion Riders chapters over the past two years, Legion Riders Chapter 82 in La Plata, Md., decided to host one to help their local community.
“Conducting the run on ‘Shop Small Saturday’ (on Nov. 28), bringing a large group of Riders through town and ending at the Christmas tree in front of town hall while promoting both American Legion Riders and the La Plata Police Department seemed like a win-win publicity wise,” said Chapter 82 Secretary John Flatley. “Our Riders want the community to know we are here to make a positive difference, not just meet once a month and ride together.”
Flatley said Sgt. Jason Posey of the La Plata Police Department, a retired Marine, had sponsored a Toys for Tots collection for years. “We felt like it would be a great partnership for both organizations,” Flatley said.
Riders brought toys to donate on the day of the ride, and the $10 registration fee per rider and passenger as well as extra donations brought in $570 for La Plata police to spend on toys the week after the ride.
As the riders approached the town hall, they met up with Santa Claus and his driver in a customized 1937 red Ford pickup truck, loading the back of the truck with toys.
The 48-mile, 1 ½ hour ride through the countryside drew 47 riders from Chapter 82, Chapter 175 from Severna Park, Md., Chapter 1976 from Annandale, Va., Chapter 176 from Springfield, Va., and a number of non-Legion Riders. “Our hope is that some of them are qualified and will consider joining our post and our (chapter).”
Flatley said the run had a “tangible impact” on the community. Flatley said La Plata Police Chief Carl Schinner told the riders as they were delivering the toys to Santa that Charles County’s Shop with a Cop program had been canceled this year because of the pandemic.
“That event usually includes a hundred or more officers picking up children in their squad cars and taking them to the local Walmart enabling the children to buy gifts for family members and even get a couple of gifts for themselves," Chief Schinner said. With social distancing protocols in place, they are unable to run that program as they have in the past. "These toys and the funds you've donated will make this difficult year just a little bit easier for families in need and brighten the faces of many children here in Charles County,’” Flatley said.
Chapter 82 Director James Zayas said, “Partnering with our community and fellow Legion Riders to help others less fortunate makes Post 82 a recognized force in La Plata. Hopefully, through events like this one, we can continue to raise awareness for and membership of our great post.”
Chapter 82 Riders also collected $540 to purchase 54 wreaths to be placed on graves at Cheltenham Veterans Cemetery as part of Wreaths Across America, with some members of the chapter participating in the event. “We are expecting that our riders will be a part of the crew loading vehicles and then laying approximately 30 ‘named’ wreaths on the graves of Post 82 departed and/or family members,” Flatley said.
Chapter 82 Riders are also planning to participate in ABATE Maryland’s “Santa Run” to Charlotte Hall Veterans Home on Dec. 19, when they will deliver gifts for the residents such as socks, puzzles, games, shaving supplies and more.