Deck the hogs

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JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

FORT WALTON BEACH — Santa Claus always looks cooler on a motorcycle.

At the 38th annual Toy Run, there were plenty of leather-clad Santas, some with decorated bikes and some with Mrs. Claus riding along.

The motorcycle run took off Sunday morning from the Sam’s Club parking lot and headed to the Mullet Festival Fairgrounds in Niceville where the run ended with food trucks and games for kids.

“What other event do you have where Santa Claus himself comes out and directs traffic?” said Jeff Rieger, assistant director for the Emerald Coast Harley Owner’s Group (HOG).

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The toy drive benefits two local nonprofits this year, Children in Crisis and the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center, who will split the toy donations.

“We look forward to providing our kids with a great Christmas this year,” said Laura Moore, volunteer and events director for Children in Crisis. “Overall, the community comes together. They’re the reason why we’re able to do what we do and support the organization. It’s very impactful for our kids.”

Many of the participating bikers like to get in the holiday spirit. There’s a lot of Santa hats, but some bikers go a step beyond decorating their entire bike with Christmas cheer.

Jose Zapata and his wife Mildred had a few people admiring their bike covered in Christmas wrapping paper. Jose said he loves this event because of the camaraderie between bikers.

“It’s the kick-starter for the Christmas season,” he said. “I like to see the smiles on the kid’s faces. They just light up.”

Arthur and Brenda Norris have been participating in the run for four years. Their bike is outfitted to resemble Santa’s sleigh, complete with a bag of presents.

“It took about two-and-a-half months to make,” said Arthur. “It’s fun to watch the kids waving and laughing.”

“We keep the decorations up until New Year’s,” Brenda added. “And then it’s packed away in the North Pole for the next Christmas.”

Todd Norris, head road captain for the Emerald Coast Harley Owner’s Group, said there were an estimated 400 bikers registered for Sunday’s event. Each biker brought a minimum of one gift. Next year, they’ll be back to do it all over again on Nov. 11.

“It’s a big draw,” said Norris. “You get to play Santa and ride through red lights without stopping with a police escort. Getting to ride and do something good? It doesn’t get any better.”

 

 

 

 

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