ENNIS, TX — Some people are just born with it — that heartfelt desire to give back to those in need. Members of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, a motorcycle club with a mission, are some of those people who see a need and work diligently all year long to make holiday dreams come true for the children and teens in the community.
Lee and Linda Gravley and Bob and Sue Tompkins are two couples within the group who have found their calling on the second Saturday of December. “There’s a great need for what we do,” Lee said, referring to the association’s annual toy drive held on the Citizens National Bank parking lot directly — By Sandra Strong across the street from Waxahachie High School. “If we didn’t do this, CASA wouldn’t get the quantity of items they need to make Christmas a happier time for so many children in Ellis County. We see a need, and we enjoy helping fill that need.”
The toy drive gives them an option.” Under the leadership of Rhodie Rawls, Court Appointed Special Advocates is a nonprofit organization focusing on improving the lives of children in the county who have been neglected or abused. The group depends on the giving spirits of those in the motorcycle association. Without them, it would be nearly impossible to bring holiday cheer to the ever-growing number of children in need within the community. “Everything we do all year long is filtered through Rhodie,” Sue said. “She knows best how to disburse the toys and cash donations we receive, not only on that Saturday, but throughout the entire year leading up to the annual toy drive.”
Lee and Linda have been giving back in one way or another for 21 years, while Bob and Sue have only been in the motorcycle club for a couple years. As for CASA, this will be the seventh consecutive year the GWRRA has banded together to help the local nonprofit organization. “Donations come in all year long,” Bob explained. “The toy drive is for children birth to age 18. We don’t want to forget the teens, so a good bit of the cash donations we receive goes toward gift cards for the older children.” No doubt, both couples enjoy the wind in their faces and the scenery along the way as they travel on their trikes (three-wheeled motorcycles). “Riding gets in the blood,” Lee stated. “You either love it or you don’t. If you love it, you can’t get enough of it. It all depends on the person.”
“Until Bob bought the trike, I wouldn’t ride,” Sue admitted. “Now, we ride everywhere together.” And ride they do — every chance they get. Bob and Sue’s longest trip has been to Kerrville, Texas, while Lee and Linda have travelled as far as Fox River, Illinois. “Our first long trip took six weeks from start to finish,” Lee remembered. But, both couples absolutely love what they see and hear during the toy drive.
Volunteering for the event is something neither couple plans on missing, as long as they are able to ride and brave the sometimes inclement weather. The passion for what they do is apparent in the excitement they exude as they retell stories from last year’s event. Linda doesn’t recall a drop in giving, even when the recession hit several years ago. “People seemed to give more during what some would consider a tough time,” Linda said. “It’s also heartwarming to see kids come with toy donations. One little boy brought a soccer ball because soccer was his favorite sport.
Several little girls donated Barbie dolls and makeup. They give what they themselves love most.” “The spirit of giving is huge,” Bob said with a laugh. “We stand out in any kind of weather — sleet, rain, wind, freezing temperatures and even pretty weather.” Lee, Linda, Bob and Sue may be givers with big hearts, but they are also on the receiving end of the Christmas season and the wonderful spirit the toy drive brings out in others. Bob can hardly contain his emotions as he remembered several people who made donations last year. “I had my Army hat on my head,” Bob said. “As people dropped off their donations, I would tell them, ‘Thank you.’ At least five people extended their thanks to me because of my past military service. Their comments made me feel good.”
Anyone can help during the toy drive. Rhodie usually brings her family and several of her friends and staff members. “Some help out for about an hour,” Lee stated, “while others stay all day.” When the day of the annual event begins, the trailers are empty. But, it doesn’t take long for them to be packed to overflowing with toys and items for the older children. And they can be packed to overflowing many times throughout the day. “Events the size of the toy drive happen so much easier when a group is involved,” Sue stated. “You do it one time, and you’re hooked.” What inspires couples like Lee and Linda and Bob and Sue to get involved in such a worthwhile undertaking? “Back in the days when we were young, we took care of ourselves, with nothing extra to give back to others,” Sue explained, as the other three nodded in agreement.
“We know what it’s like not to have a lot, so giving to others now because we are able to is why we do what we do.” They realize the toy drive would not happen without the continued dedication of club members, Rhodie and her staff from CASA and most importantly, the overall public. Everybody involved with the event has an integral part to play, and it takes everyone doing their part for the drive to be a success year-after-year. “Ellis County is filled with so many caring, giving individuals who aren’t aware of a need until they are made aware of a need,” Linda said. “Sometimes,” Lee added, “the giving is as simple as a hot cup of coffee on a cold Saturday in December.”