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ABATE kicks off parade bearing gifts for abused, neglected children

December 01, 2001|By MARCY MISNER, Staff Writer

For several years now a familiar sound at the El Centro Christmas parade has been the motorcycle riders who herald the start of the parade.

"Once people hear the bikes, they know the parade is coming," said Eddie Aranda, the assistant director for the area motorcycle chapter. The trademark burbling sound of the Harley Davidson engines can be heard for blocks. The sounds of other motorcycle engines can be heard as undertones and round out the mechanical cantata.

For 10 years now, motorcycle riders have come just ahead of the El Centro Christmas parade, bearing gifts bound for children at the Betty Jo McNeece Receiving Home, the county's home for abused, abandoned or neglected children. For years the home was known as Los Niños.

"It started out 10 years ago right there (at a house across from Bucklin Park) with Larry Bratton, Dr. Dan Madrid and some others. There were about 30 of us that first year.

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There was no motorcycle group in the Valley but the next year ABATE was chartered," explained Jaime Gonzalez, a political representative for the American Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education. ABATE of California is a motorcyclists' rights organization dedicated to preserving individual freedom and promoting safety.

ABATE has sponsored the toy run since then, Gonzalez said.

"Every year we do this for Los Niños. It's our way of giving back to the community. (The bikers) come down here when it's raining, cold. They gladly come here, just to give some kids some joy for a while," Gonzalez said.

About 125 to 150 motorcyclists brought toys or cash donations and gathered at Bucklin Park early Saturday for a breakfast before the parade. Harley Davidson and Honda riders alike joked and ate breakfast before mounting their bikes to join the parade.

As parade entrants lined up, the motorcyclists were brought by police escort to the front of the parade route. Riding farther back would be troublesome because many of the bikes are air-cooled and need to be up to speed lest they overheat.

Up to one-third of the riders were from Yuma, and one Yuma rider voiced his appreciation and admiration for how well the city of El Centro treats motorcyclists here.

"The city of Yuma doesn't appreciate us lately and they better wake up," said David Cabralas of Yuma, a member of the Yuma Harley Owners Group, or HOG, chapter.

"I like coming here because I like the way they handle it here. The parade and the people really welcome us and that makes us feel good and it makes us want to come back," Cabralas said. He later explained motorcyclists used to have a toy run in Yuma before city officials discouraged the 150 or so riders from parading along Fourth Avenue, claiming it clogged traffic flow. Motorcyclists still have a toy run in Yuma but with no fanfare.

Motorcyclists in Saturday's parade completed the parade route and stopped briefly at Bucklin Park so Santa Claus could climb aboard his motorcycle, and off they rode to the receiving home to pass out gifts.

Aranda said he believes there are about 30 kids at the home this weekend.

"It's ironic around this time of year, that's when they get the most kids," Aranda said.

One rider named Jeff, a Brawley resident who declined to give his last name, brought a football to the toy run. Mike Bush, whose city of residence was not available, brought a Tickle Me Elmo doll. Both are members of the Blue Knights, a motorcycle club for law enforcement personnel.

Paul Conway of El Centro donated cash for the receiving home to use as it pleases.

"I came out to support the organization and for the breakfast," Conway said as he sipped a cup of coffee, which steamed in the chilly morning air. He and Aranda both said this toy run is the group's major annual event.

Ed Hatfield, president of the local ABATE chapter, said about 200 new toys were donated last year.

"On behalf of ABATE, I'd like to thanks Los Vigilantes for all their hard work and helping us get through the parade route. There's a story right there," Hatfield said. "They don't get much recognition for all they do, not just the parade. There is so much tradition there. I think they do a great job. They do a lot for the community."

Los Vigilantes is an El Centro Chamber of Commerce-related service organization that, among many other year-round activities, lines up parade entries and helps many local parades run smoothly.

After the toy run, the motorcyclists rode back to Bucklin Park to watch the rest of the parade.

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