Bikers for a Cause deliver gifts to Nazareth Child & Family Connection
By Andie Foley
Tall and with a braided horseshoe mustache that hits him mid-chest, Darby Dillard perfectly embodies the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
He was one of many of a similar sort gathering on Saturday in the Nazareth Child and Family Connection gymnasium: biker and sports car-club types with leather jackets, patch-covered vests and chaps.
All had come together with local emergency personnel and community volunteers for this year’s Bikers with a Cause Christmas Party and Toy Run, a tradition of over 30 years. The “Bikers with a Cause” group, which Dillard oversees, uses the event to complete Christmas lists of the Nazareth residents.
Escorted by members of the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department, bikers and car drivers trek from the Speedway-Harley Davidson for a grand entrance. They then gather with Nazareth’s children and youth, enjoying a Christmas meal — turkey, ham, green beans, corn and more — along with music and a chance to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Some drivers and riders bring their gifts along and hand them off upon arrival. Others have already made the drop off, meaning the gym awaits its guests with a sea of brightly colored packages and bags awaiting recipients.
With over 400 volunteers and gift-givers in attendance this year, Nazareth CEO Vernon Walters said this year was the biggest party yet.
“It’s certainly a huge crowd,” he said, standing to one side of the gymnasium to survey the excitement. “… It’s great that all these people are sharing their Christmas with all of our kids. … A lot of them have never had a Christmas until they got here.”
According to Dillard, the attendance isn’t the only aspect of the festivities that has changed through the years. It started as a run-of-the-mill biker toy run, he said, with bikers bringing in unwrapped toys for the children to pick from in small groups.
“One year we wrapped the toys, and the kids were so impressed that somebody took the time to just wrap the presents and put their names on them,” he said. “We’ve been bagging, wrapping and tagging ever since.”
Next came the transition to wish lists, something Dillard and his wife started after stepping up to help coordinate the event ten years ago. The hope was to give the gifts an even more personal touch, he said.
A similar evolution happened with the party’s refreshments as they moved from light desserts to a full meal.
“Once we start something that’s good like that, we can’t stop,” he said.
Dillard said his decision to take on planning the annual event was led by the Holy Spirit.
He was diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disorder in 2005, he said, and didn’t get back on his feet until two years later.
It would be around that time that he learned the toy run was in danger of being cancelled, as its current planner was struggling with personal health issues as well.
“I had the time to do it,” he said. “… The Holy Spirit spoke to me and I quit ignoring him after I almost died in 2005.”
Years in, and he still gets teary-eyed speaking about the effort. On average, some 40 children will see their Christmas wishes met through the effort each year.
Around 50 were served through the community collaboration this year, and Dillard expressed his hope to continue bringing in services to the children in months to come.
The group also oversees quarterly birthday parties for residents, he said.
“Sometimes I think people that don’t know, when they hear me talk they think ‘Man, you might be full of it. You don’t look trustworthy,'” said Dillard. “I get that. We’re all guilty of stereotyping to a certain degree. … But these kids need attention through the year too.”