Make us your home page
Instagram

Cookson Hills Toy Run perseveres after death of co-founder's 'soul mate'

TAMPA — Out of the numerous charitable events he and his motorcycle buddies regularly take part in, Jose Ramos ranks the annual Cookson Hills Toy Run at the top of his list of favorites.

In fact, Ramos, who serves as president of the Brandon chapter of the Latin American Motorcycle Club, describes it as the most meaningful and heartwarming affair his group has played a part in for the last eight or nine years.

"It makes us feel like this is what the whole Christmas spirit of giving is all about," he said. "It also impacts some of us who grew up in poverty and now are able to give back."

This year's event runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Veterans Memorial Park, 3602 U.S. 301, and it marks the 23rd consecutive gathering of mainly motorcyclists from throughout the greater Tampa area who come together with gifts in their hands and compassion in their hearts.

Their sole purpose is to brighten the holiday season and put smiles on the faces of youngsters from newborns to 18-year-olds still in high school living in low-income households. It also aims to help people of all ages with special needs, including veterans.

Cookson Hills Toy Run board of directors president Sheri Brown, together with her husband, Bill, started the run in 1993 after meeting and learning about the at-risk children at the Cookson Hills Christian Home in Seffner.

Initially the event's focus was on those residents, but when the home's administrators reorganized under the umbrella of Cookson Hills Family Ministries of Florida, protecting the children's privacy became of primary importance. As a result, the run no longer serves the youngsters at the home even though it has retained the Cookson Hills name.

Today the initiative is primarily centered on children in 18 schools throughout southeastern Hillsborough County and this year's run is expected to draw more than 300 of those youngsters and family members.

"These are the kids that would probably fall through the cracks, kids who come from families where a parent has lost a job or suffers from a serious illness," said Cookson Hills Toy Run board secretary Belinda Smith, who noted that school guidance counselors help select the gift recipients.

Sheri knows firsthand what it's like to struggle at a young age. She was placed in foster care due to an unstable and abusive family environment. At 15, she left her foster family and moved out on her own into an apartment.

She later came to Florida where she met and married Bill, whom she calls her "soulmate." With him as her "ATM" and her as the run's chief coordinator, they vowed to pay forward the many blessings reaped from their lives together. Over the years, Sheri estimates they contributed about $45,000 from their own pockets toward the endeavor.

But Bill died last year from cancer, leaving Sheri with a difficult decision.

Shortly after Bill's death, she made up her mind not to continue to oversee the run. But, with the coaxing of friends and fellow bikers at his memorial service, she felt a strong calling to carry on in her husband's absence.

"I am a firm believer of supporting people in need because I've been there," Sheri said. "At this event, you touch souls and make a difference, and really, the best thing about it is that people who bring the gifts get to see exactly where they go."

She encourages people who've never been a part of the run to come out — bikers and nonbikers alike — bring a gift for a child and experience the joy it brings to everyone involved.

"It's magical, it always has been, and there are always miracles," Sheri said. "Kids get what they never dreamed they would have and once you've experienced it you'll never forget it."

Tampa lawyer Brad Souders has been both a sponsor and a participant in the toy run for several years. He's always admired the Browns for their selfless dedication to helping others in need.

"I can see Bill's face now and see him smiling down on us," Souders said. "He would probably say we're just down-home people trying to make some kids happy."

Visit cooksonhillstoyrun.com or call (813) 643-5758 for more information.

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Cookson Hills Toy Run perseveres after death of co-founder's 'soul mate' 11/29/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2016 7:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 24

    Events

    Zac Brown Band: The country, folk and Southern rockers embark on the "Welcome Home" tour in support of the album. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $27.50-$77.50. (813) 740-2446.

    Handout photo of the Zac Brown Band, performing at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on 9/24/17. Credit: Shore Fire Media
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 23

    Events

    Smithsonian Museum Day Live: Museums across the nation partner with the Smithsonian to offer free admission for one day. Among them are Florida Holocaust Museum, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs.Cracker Country in Tampa, Ringling Museum of Art. Note: Dalí Museum is free for Pinellas County …

    The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is among the museums participating in the Smithsonian's Museum Day Live, offering free admission. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Special to the Times)
  3. Tampa Repertory's 'Flying' soars in some places, sputters in others

    Stage

    TAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre has always insisted on putting on plays that mean something. Several shows over the last couple of years have zeroed in on the social and cultural baggage that comes with being female (The Children's Hour, Silent Sky and Grounded come to mind). None of those …

    The Southeastern premiere of Flying, Sheila Cowley's play at Tampa Repertory Theatre about veterans of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, includes (from left) Holly Marie Weber, Rosemary Orlando, and Becca McCoy. Photo by Megan Lamasney.
  4. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]