CLINTON — A brotherhood of bikers came together this weekend to make sure local kids will have a Christmas morning to remember.

More than 150 motorcycles gathered in the parking lot of the Eagle Point Park Lodge on Sunday afternoon for the 17th Annual ABATE (A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education) of Iowa District 21 Toys For Tots Ride. The ride kicked off the local Toys For Tots drive, which collects toys as Christmas gifts for needy children in the area.

“This is the best turnout we’ve ever had,” a rider called Sponge said. “And it’s only going to get bigger.”

As the motorcyclists got ready for the ride, a moment of silence was held for their fallen brothers and sisters, followed by a prayer. Ride leaders explained the route and asked each motorcyclist to ride safe. Then, the nearly 200 people mounted their bikes and lined up in a staggered dual formation as they headed out of the park.

From Eagle Point Park, the riders traveled south down Second Street to Seventh Avenue South, west on Camanche Avenue and north on the Mill Creek Parkway. From there, the riders headed east on 13th Avenue North to Second Street and across the North Bridge, into downtown Fulton, Ill., and ended the ride at The Outpost, at the intersection of Penrose Road and Illinois 84. The riders were greeted by many area residents who stopped to watch the parade of motorcycles and wave at the riders, who were more than happy to smile and wave back. At times, the motorcycles stretched as far as the eye could see.

Once at The Outpost, motorcyclists filled several tables with toys including stuffed animals, dolls, remote control vehicles, games, sports equipment and electronic instruments. A 50/50 raffle was held raising $242, with half slated for the toy drive and half as winner proceeds. The raffle winner, Julie “Jules” Meiners donated the $141 back to the toy drive.

The event began with D.C. “Bear” Richardson. Bear passed away last December and the riders carried on his infamous generosity this year with enthusiasm.

His son, Tim Richardson, said local motorcyclists genuinely care about children and enjoy giving back to the community

“Plenty of times it was cold and we didn’t have as many riders, but we always had a decent amount of toys,” Richardson said. Of his father, he remarked, “Now that he is where he is, he’s giving us nice days to do this.”

Larry Leonard took on the role of Santa Claus for the event. He expressed his pride in seeing so many motorcycle riders come together, collecting toys and funds for the benefit of local kids.

“It’s a great cause,” he said.

He added that members already went shopping with the early monetary donations.

“With the help of Paul’s Discount, we were able to purchase $1,400 worth of toys,” he commented. “Now I have to go back and do more shopping.”

Leonard said the riders would have liked to have had a police escort for the ride. Many riders served as road guards, protecting the group of motorcyclists at busy intersections.

“We thank the road guard for helping at the intersections and we hope no one was inconvenienced at a stop light,” Leonard said.

District 21 Coordinator Fred Donovan said the motorcycle enthusiasts and members of ABATE are more than happy to give of themselves to help local children.

“That’s why we did this it’s for the kids. It’s really to help these communities as best we can,” said Donovan. “It was a super turnout and we had a great day for it. We just want to thank everyone for coming, thank them for their donations. It’s all going to a great cause.”

“We also want to thank all the businesses that donated to Toys for Tots,” District 21 Treasurer Elvira Donovan said.

Through Dec. 15, Toys For Tots donations will be accepted at The Outpost, The Brown Dog Saloon, 1112 Fourth St., Fulton; and Lyons Tap, 224 Main Ave., Clinton. Toys should be new and may be in their original packaging but not wrapped as a gift. Toys are needed for boys and girls of all ages. Donations benefit children in Clinton and Jackson counties in Iowa and Whiteside and Carroll counties in Illinois. Any and all donations are appreciated.

In addition to the toys and funds garnered for Toys For Tots, ABATE District 21 collected coats and sweatshirts for local children, as well as donations for local food pantries in Clinton and Jackson Counties in Iowa and Whiteside County in Illinois.

For more information on ABATE District 21 or to become a member, visit http://abateiowa21.tripod.com.