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SPRING HOPE — The gathering place has changed, but nothing could stop local bikers from collecting toys for children in need this Christmas.
For the first time in more than two decades the Batchelor Toy Run wasn’t held at Batchelor’s Tavern. The event moved a mile down the road to Michael’s Showside Grille, a bar and restaurant in downtown Spring Hope, but it will always be known as Batchelor’s Toy Run.
“Without Mr. Batchelor, none of this would be possible,” said Josh Robbins, whose late father helped launch the annual bike ride 26 years ago. Dressed as Santa Claus, Robbins led the bikers Saturday on their ride from Showside to Ephesus Baptist Church to deliver toys and gifts.
Showside owner Michael Ward said he couldn’t possibly say no to an event to collect gifts and raise money for children so when Batchelor’s — now a sweepstakes business — wasn’t an option this year, he stepped up.
“They’re friends of mine, they needed somewhere, so here we are,” Ward said of the event organizers.
The restaurant was closed for lunch to accommodate the large group of bikers. Ward said he wasn’t worried if he lost a little business.
“I told the customers why we would be closed and they support it,” Ward said. “We’re opening the restaurant at 5.”
The toy run began in 1992 when several local bikers felt the need to help needy children in the Spring Hope community. Danny “Preacherman” James “Snooks” Robbins, Donald “Duck” Perry and Charlie Bogey, along with their spouses, convinced several other bikers to join them in gathering toys for local children.
The bikers rode on Dec. 4, 1993, the first Saturday of the month, which would become the tradition.
Back then, Steve Batchelor provided a place for everyone to gather and cook a meal for the toy run participants. Still involved, he helped cook the pig for Saturday’s event.
Bonita Bogey, Charlie Bogey’s wife, and other wives handle door prizes and getting things together on the day of the ride.
“This year we had sponsors pay for the food we prepared, in the past we all contributed to purchasing what we needed,” Bonita Bogey said.
From the very beginning, everyone who showed up brought toys to the tavern, loaded them up and rode to one of the local churches for distribution.
The first year, the bikers rode to Holly Grove Church outside Spring Hope, the second year they went to Cypress Chapel and the next year back to Holly Grove. The fourth year it was suggested they go to Ephesus Baptist Church in Spring Hope. One of the church’s elders, Lottie Lou Dickens, welcomed them and apologized for the small fellowship hall.
Dickens told them to return the following year and the church would have a new and larger fellowship hall. Ever since, the riders have gone to Ephesus, which is part of the Tar River Baptist Association where the toys are taken to be distributed, said Debbie Oxendine.
Oxendine didn’t join the run until year three, but has been integral to the operation ever since.
“I started out at the tavern by helping set up,” Oxendine said. “I later started going to church at Ephesus Baptist Church where the toy run now receives the toys. I have accompanied youth from our church to the TRBA office at Christmas to help families pick out gifts or toys for their family.”
Oxendine has organized the event at the church. Several of the bikers attend and Krispy Kreme doughnuts and coffee are served that morning.
“Folks always gather on the Friday night before the run to start preparing food, peeling potatoes, making deer kabobs, prepping the pig,” Oxendine said. “It is always a great time of fellowship.”
Over the years, the group has grown to include as many as 150 or so bikers participating in the run. Children of the original bikers have always helped and now the third generation of children are helping, Oxendine said.
“In the past few years, we have lost Danny James, Snooks Robbins and Donald Perry. However, this has not caused the end of things. Snooks’ son, Josh, has stepped up to the plate to carry on his father’s and others’ tradition,” Oxendine said.
Over the years, even in snow and rain, the rides have raised more than $100,000 in toys and money, organizers said.