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Santa bikers collect toys for tots

JOHN ABERNATHY (front, left) will collect the last donation of toys on Saturday, Dec. 1, before strapping them to his motorcycle and riding to Cloverdale for the 16th annual Toy Run, for which Northern California bikers bring toys for the Marines Toys For Tots drive. (Back, right) Nick Grimm, owner of Café Scooteria, poses with Janette Acevedo. Grimm will give anyone who donates a toy at his store a free coffee. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

JOHN ABERNATHY (front, left) will collect the last donation of toys on Saturday, Dec. 1, before strapping them to his motorcycle and riding to Cloverdale for the 16th annual Toy Run, for which Northern California bikers bring toys for the Marines Toys For Tots drive. (Back, right) Nick Grimm, owner of Café Scooteria, poses with Janette Acevedo. Grimm will give anyone who donates a toy at his store a free coffee. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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Clad in Santa gear and atop a Harley, John Abernathy will lead a group of Valley bikers to the 16th annual Toy Run in Cloverdale on Sunday after collecting a few last toy donations.

Abernathy and the toy-collecting motorcyclists work as an extension of the Marines in its annual Toys For Tots toy drive.

The bikers, Abernathy said, got involved in Sacramento through the then-Modified Motorcycle Association years ago. The group came from all over Northern California and collected toys from their local area to donate to the larger Toys For Tots effort.

Bikers from all over Northern California – Eureka, Vacaville, Santa Rosa, Sacramento, Sonoma – now run collection sites in their towns and bring the toys to one large event in Cloverdale each year.

Abernathy started collecting toys in Sonoma around the beginning of November at various locations, including Café Scooteria on West Napa Street, the fire station on Agua Caliente Road and Sonoma Chevrolet on West Napa Street. Café Scooteria has been giving a free coffee to anyone who donates a toy.

For Abernathy, this toy run marks a personal victory. Abernathy is a recovering alcoholic, sober for 36 years. He remembers when he first started collecting toys in Sonoma to take to the old toy drive meet in Sacramento, and he was not able to make it because he couldn’t drive. “The first thing I did when I got sober was strap a toy onto my bike and take it to the toy run,” Abernathy said. “I’ve done it every year since then; rain or shine, we get the toys there.”

Abernathy said he likes knowing that, when he wakes up on Christmas morning, somewhere a kid will be getting a toy. He recalls something he heard a former orphan say. “‘The longest day of a kid’s life is a Christmas without a toy.’ That’s why I do it.”

Not only does Abernathy pass out fliers and collect toys from donation sites, but he also shops for gifts to donate himself – sometimes it takes him weeks to find the perfect gift. “I get it stuck in my head what I want to donate to a kid this year and I just have to find it. I look everywhere till I do,” Abernathy said. This year, Abernathy’s donating revived classics such as Lincoln Logs.

Abernathy even recalls a time when he was shopping for a toy and he met a woman in her 20s who had received one of his donated toys, “She looked at me and said, ‘I still have my teddy bear,’ and that just made me feel so good to think she held onto it for so long.” Abernathy collects and donates because he believes, along with so many other volunteers in the Toys For Tots toy drive, that every child should have a special moment to open something on Christmas.

The last day to donate toys is Saturday, Dec. 1. Toys must be new and unwrapped. Abernathy says cash donations are also accepted – he will either use cash to buy a toy or buy batteries for toys that require them.

The three Sonoma collection sites are: Café Scooteria, Sorento Imports, 455 W. Napa St.; Sonoma Chevrolet, 687 W. Napa St.; and Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority, 1 W. Agua Caliente Rd.

Abernathy and a group of 20 friends will ride their loaded motorcycles to Cloverdale for the Sunday, Dec. 2, toy meet-up. Anybody who wants to bring a bike and join the ride is welcome to meet at the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., at noon on Dec. 2. A barbecue and holiday festivities, with a band and Santa, will be at the Cloverdale Citrus Fair, 1 Citrus Fair Drive, Cloverdale, from 1 to 2 p.m. on Sunday. For more information on toy donation or the event, contact Abernathy at 567-1508.