By Brian Livingston / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Spend any time watching television and you are likely to see a commercial about hungry families and kids in other countries who, with sad eyes and tears running down their faces, hope to get donations to help them eat, go to school and receive medical supplies.
You don't have go overseas to find hunger, however. There are plenty of local children who need help, officials with an organization that helps feed area children said.
Bikers United For Children (BUFT) zeros in on local families, and more specifically, local children who are in need during the holiday season, which is fast approaching. This year the number of local children whose families need help with food has gone up, in part because of the sagging economy.
On Dec. 1, BUFT will conduct the organization's second annual Toy Run in downtown Meridian. BUFT spokesman Bob Anderson said it will a challenge this year to meet the need, but it is something the unified organization of area motorcycle clubs looks forward to tackling.
"Last year was super," said Anderson, who has been involved with many such toy drives over the last 20 years. "We had a great many people and supporters and we met the needs of many. But this year the need is greater."
Last year Anderson said almost 160 bikers participated in the Toy Run. This year he is looking at eclipsing 200 riders.
Anderson said the toys they gather will go to the Wesley House Community Center, which acts as a clearing house for those in need. Ginger Stevens, executive director for the Wesley House, said Anderson and his organization has been a blessing.
"The bikers are awesome," Stevens said. "They jump started our campaign last year in their first time doing this and I hope the people get behind them in a bigger way this year because we sure need the help."
Stevens said the demand is way above what it was just 12 short months ago. For an example, Stevens said the number of people asking for help just for the Thanksgiving holiday has doubled from last year.
"This influx of new applicants represents families who have never asked for assistance before," Stevens said. "That is how the landscape has changed in the last year. We expect more families to ask for help during Christmas as well."
Applications for assistance during Christmas are still available, Stevens said.
Anderson knows both the challenges of asking for support in this economy and getting residents to open up their hearts for others is a tough sell. But he is counting on the giving spirit Mississippians have exhibited throughout past years.
"It is amazing that those with the least to give, give the most often," Anderson said. "But we are asking everyone to pitch in a little bit. Remember, we are talking about our own here at home."
Anderson said it is encouraging that the sponsors and supporters thus far have been enthusiastic. But he doesn't want to rest on his laurels. That is music to the ears of Stevens.
"Bob and the other bikers have hearts as big as the Harleys they ride," Stevens said. "It is amazing the energy they bring to this trying time of year."
The Toy Run will begin at 1 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn on North Frontage Road. Registration begins at 10 a.m. Each participant is asked to enter the run with a new toy. The procession will be routed through downtown Meridian and arrive at College Park United Methodist Church across from MSU Meridian. Chili and cornbread will be served.
All of the proceeds will go to the children. If you want to donate a new toy, you can drop the toy off at College Park United Methodist Church, Church of the Nazarene, Ed Chaney Tire Center, Hilton Garden Inn, Meridian Cycles, Ken's Cycle and ATV, Big Lots, Auto Plus Insurance, or Quality Paint and Body.
For more information, contact Bob Anderson at 601-693-7504, or D.K. at 228-328-3338, or Eclipse at 601-479-8884.