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Area bikers ride for a cause

Area bikers gather in this June 2008 file photo for the Shriners Toy Run. Bikers from across the region will ride in the coming weeks to raise money and donations for various causes. Tribune file photo

Bandanas, black leather and Harley-Davidsons don't necessarily scream "charity event," but this weekend, hundreds of local motorcycle riders will raise money for regional and national causes.

Anywhere from 80 to 125 riders will gather Saturday in Belgrade for the seventh annual Veterans' Benefit Motorcycle Run, sponsored by the Brotherhood Motorcycle Club of Minnesota.

This year, the event will raise money for the Veterans of Foreign Wars program Operation Uplink, which provides free phone time to active-duty military personnel and hospitalized veterans.

"As a veteran myself, I know the value of staying in touch with family and loved ones back home," said John Larson, a Brotherhood Motorcycle Club member and a Marine Corps veteran. "It hits home with me."

According to the Operation Uplink website, the VFW has provided more than 3 million phone calls -- or 37 million minutes of call time -- to individuals currently serving in the military. The program is now offered in more than 866 locations abroad.

The club hopes to raise between $1,000 and $1,500 for Operation Uplink, consistent with donations earned in past years from the benefit ride. Each year, the Brotherhood Motorcycle Club chooses a different program or organization as the recipient of its donation.

"(The public) is always very supportive and positive" of the club's efforts," said Larson, who's more commonly known as "Nitro" when he's on his bike. "I'd love to see us hit $5,000 one year."

In the past six years, the benefit ride has raised money for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Silver Bay and the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, as well as for local honor guards, who provide funeral honors for fallen soldiers. Every other year, the Brotherhood Motorcycle Club uses the money from the benefit ride to assemble care packages for local troops serving overseas.

The Veterans' Benefit Motorcycle Ride will begin at the Brotherhood MC Minnesota clubhouse in downtown Belgrade and stop at several local VFW headquarters before ending up back in town at the Saboe-Levorson VFW Post 1825, a ride totaling about 100 miles. Registration begins at 11 a.m., with the ride following at noon. The suggested donation per rider is $10.

Larson said anyone can donate to the event, even if they don't want to ride. And if people want to participate but don't own a motorcycle, they can still drive alongside the bikers in their cars or hot rods.

Also this weekend, more than 200 motorcycle riders will trade their tattoos for toys -- metaphorically, of course -- and participate in the 22nd annual Shriners Toy Run on Sunday in Willmar.

In order to ride in the event, participants must bring a new, unwrapped toy as a donation. Following the ride, all of the toys will be delivered to the Twin Cities Shriners Hospital for Children, which specializes in orthopedic care for children 18 and under.

"These toys put a smile on a kid's face when they're having a tough time," said Corey Pavelko of Willmar, chairman of the event. "We have to do a good job, because this is the hospital's only source of toys for the entire year."

In the past few years, between 500 and 600 toys have been contributed to the children's hospital as a result of the toy run.

Pavelko said anyone can contribute toys to the event, or, if they prefer, they can choose to help several Minnesota Vikings cheerleaders support the bikers from the sidelines.

Registration for the toy run, co-sponsored by the Highway Owners Group in Raymond, begins at 11 a.m. Sunday and ends at 12:45 p.m. The ride begins at 1 p.m. at Robbins Island Park in Willmar, where riders will begin their 80-mile ride before finishing the day with a light lunch.

After this weekend, bikers will still have plenty of chances to raise money for a good cause. On June 19 and 20, riders can participate in the 14th annual Glacial Ridge Hospice Motorcycle Weekend in Glenwood. The ride supports the hospice, which serves Pope County and the surrounding area.

On June 19, lunch and registration will begin at 11 a.m., and the race will start at 1 p.m. Later that evening, riders can participate in a night ride around Lake Minnewaska at 9 p.m. On June 20, a community breakfast and church service will be held, beginning at 9 a.m. All events take place at City Park in Glenwood.

Through fundraising events like these, local motorcycle riders are ditching the "bad-boy" perception and opting to show their softer side instead.

"It just shows that we're actively contributing to the good of society," Pavelko said. "We're not just a bunch of hardcore bikers on Harley-Davidsons. We're helping a good cause."

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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