ZEPHYRHILLS — The story of Santa and his sleigh has etched itself into American mythos. But in Zephyrhills, Santa doesn't ride a sleigh. He rides a Gold Wing.
For more than 25 years, the Gold Wing Road Riders Association has helped the local community. Members of the motorcycle club ride in the annual Christmas parade and hold a rally where they travel from one mobile home park to the next on decorated bikes, stopping to sing Christmas carols. Along the way — in what they consider to be their most important job — they collect donated toys for needy families.
Brenda Dixon, a family service worker for Woodland Elementary who works with pre-K students and their families, says the need for donations has increased this year because more parents are jobless and are raising families on less.
"We've had parents who've thanked us because they didn't know what to do and they didn't have food to eat," Dixon said. "They don't have a whole lot, but I think it's very important the kids see toys under the tree for Christmas from Santa."
Dixon said, in addition to toys, the Gold Wings have donated food for families to have special holiday dinners.
Rick Northrop, the director for the Zephyrhills Gold Wing chapter, said the group received enough toys for more than 700 children last year, which was less than they had received in previous years.
Donation boxes are already set up in the clubhouses of most of the city's mobile home parks, including Betmar Acres, where the toys will be sorted and given to teachers all over east Pasco.
Northrop said toy donations should be unwrapped, because the teachers will wrap the gifts after they have been selected. Toys for all age groups are needed.
"We spend about six weeks collecting the toys," Northrop said. "With all the time we spend collecting the toys, it takes them less than 25 minutes to empty the hall."
On Dec. 12, chapter members will travel through the 40 or so mobile home parks on their route and collect the toys. Chapter historian Lyle Evans is one of the men who distributed the boxes and will take them to be sorted. He will also be riding a decorated bike through the parks later that night with his fellow chapter members.
"The ride through the parks is to show gratitude to the people who gave us the gifts," Evans said. "We sing carols, and the senior citizens enjoy seeing the decorated bikes."
For Evans, a sense of goodwill is the reason he participates.
"It's gratifying to see the community come together," Evans said. "Everyone gets benefit out of it, and it's good for holiday spirit."
Dixon thinks the Gold Wing riders should be proud of all they do each year.
"If it wasn't for the Gold Wings, it would probably be very hard to get enough donations to cover the families," Dixon said. "I don't know how we'd do it without them. They're angels."