NORTH FALMOUTH – Santa likes to ride a Harley but does not like to do interviews. But no matter. He was just one of hundreds of motorcycle-riding participants last Sunday in the 17th Annual Christina Wetherbee Memorial Toy Run.
Other bikers were more than willing to talk about why they were there. The mantra: “It’s for the kids.”
Joe Wetherbee organizes the ride with his second wife, Clarissa, as a memorial tribute to his first wife, Christina, who died in April 2000 of cancer. Christina had organized the ride for 10 years prior to it being renamed in her honor.
Joe Wetherbee said the ride is all about the shelter’s youngest residents. “It’s not the children’s fault they’re in shelter,” Wetherbee said. “Sometimes it’s not the parents fault either.”
Every year, the jolly but press-shy Santa leads the ride followed by a trailer full of donated toys for the shelter children.
The ride begins every year on the first Sunday in November at the Fraternal Order of Eagles hall in Buzzards Bay. This year, despite a light rain, more than 150 bikers arrived for the journey over the Bourne Bridge and over to the Housing Assistance Corporation’s Carriage House shelter in North Falmouth.
The shelter building is a gracious former summer home set back behind an ancient stone wall along a winding Cape Cod byway. It houses 10 homeless women and their children for periods that average about nine months while staff work to find transitional or permanent housing for the families.
The ride is supported by local Cape Cod Harley Owners Group (HOG) and many other motorcycle groups from across the region, and the price to participate in the ride is a donation of a new toy or $10. This year the ride raised more than $2,500.
After the ride and the passing of the toys down the long assembly line of bikers, all gather inside the shelter for clam chowder, chili and hotdogs, prepared and donated by Mike and Jeff Lewis, brothers who are the owners of Seafood Sam’s restaurants in Falmouth and Sandwich, as well as corn bread and other foods and beverages donated by Kettle Cuisine, Stop & Shop in Falmouth and Hyannis, and Starbuck’s.
The riders arrival is signaled every year by a low rumble. Children and their parents living at the Carriage House shelter and at Housing Assistance Corp.’s other family shelters stood and watched in wonder as bike after bike motored down the property’s circular driveway.
Besides the Carriage House, HAC’s other shelters are the nearby Village at Cataumet, a converted motel housing 18 families, and the Angel House shelter in Hyannis, housing 13 women recovering from substance abuse and their children. There is also the Scattered Sites shelter program where 17 families are housed in apartments in several buildings in Hyannis and Yarmouth, awaiting more permanent housing.
The hallmark of the day is when the riders make a line from the truck transporting the toys and the shelter’s playspace building out back, passing each donated toy from rider to rider and into the building where staff sort them in age-appropriate categories. Shelter directors then choose toys for their young clients.
Some years during the ride, there has been snow; other years extreme cold has hindered riders. But this year, early clouds gave way to sun and blue sky. But no matter the weather, the warmth radiates from the giving spirit, as all the riders, shelter staff and families come together over hot soup and chili and a cake decorated with the image of Santa riding a Harley.
Now to Santa’s responses to a reporter’s inquiring questions, with video camera. What do you think of the event? “I love it.” What do you love about it? “Everything, especially the little people.” And the ride itself? “It’s a real thrill.”
But when the reporter pressed him, Santa got a little mischievous. Question: Does the suit get in the way of riding? “I got bumpers on the side, when I hit things I bounce off. I hope you’re not recording this.”
I was recording, but that’s okay. Even if Santa is not much for interviews, we know what is in his heart.