Cookson Hills Toy Run Touches Hearts, Heralds Season of Giving

The 19th Annual Cookson Hills Toy Run offers the unique opportunity for the donors of toys and gifts to personally hand-deliver those tidings to the people in need who receive them.


The Cookson Hills Toy Run's 19th year once again brought out hundreds of motorcycle riders and hundreds of gift recipients at Evans Park in the Greater Brandon area of Seffner.

Count among them numerous riders dressed as Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves. And in that group was Bill Longenbarger, of the Riverview Moose Riders, sporting a black leather vest atop his red-and-white Santa outfit.

"To see the smiles on the kids faces, that's the main thing," he said, about his desire to join the run. "Wherever we can go, to meet the needs of the kids in our community, that's what we do."

Also dressed as Santa was Hoke Minton, with the Hardcore Confederates motorcycle club, who brought with him his daughter, Emily, dressed as an elf.

"It's my first time here," he said. "We brought a truckload of water."

Along for the ride was Clay Johnson, who said he has been participating in the Cookson Hills Toy Run for a couple of years.

"I love it, it's the best one," he said. "It's not commercialized and the kids are the only ones making out, nobody else."

The Cookson Hills Toy Run is a 20-mile trek that begins at the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum in Tampa and ends at Evans Park, adjacent to Burnett Middle School

For 19 years Sheri and Bill Brown have been organizing, running and advertising the toy run, which calls upon motorcyclists to ride bearing holiday gifts in a show of compassionate solidarity for special needs people of all ages and now, as well, seniors, veterans with no family and the “forgotten children” of eastern Hillsborough County.

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Ed "Tin Man" Smith, standing next to Yvonne Yerby, dressed as an elf, said he gets a thrill putting his gifts directly into the hands of the kids and adults who receive them.

Somebody can tell you the kids will get the gifts, "but seeing it [yourself] is completely different," he said.

Gorge Marquet agreed.

"You can actually see where your gifts are going," said Marquet, who added that he likes to bring presents for the older kids, who don't typically get the same attention as the younger ones. "You get to share their excitement, you get to see the smiles on their faces."

With Angelo "Angel" Rodriguez, sporting a Santa hat, was his wife, Kelli, and his daughter, Kaylee.

"I like to hand out the presents because it makes people really happy," Kaylee Rodriguez said.

"I want to teach her that there are families who are less fortunate than others," added her mother. "Becuase we're able to help we should help."

Roger Mailhot, whose bike was sported with an American flag, served as the "flag bike" for the Patriot Guard Riders.

"This [toy run] is so different from all the others because one, you can wrap your gifts, and two, you give the gifts to the children," Mailhot said. "Most of the other [toy drives], the gifts have to be unwrapped and you don't even know who the gifts go to."

Rider Mariawise Rose said all her kids are grown, so it's great to be able to wrap some gifts for younger children. It also helps support families at a time when so many parents are getting laid off from their jobs, she added.

The "interaction with the kids" is a big plus, too, for rider Judy Gray, who added: "It will bring tears to your eyes."


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