With their motorcycles put away for winter, ABATE -- Alaska Bikers Advocating Training and Education -- seem well suited for Santa's sleigh.
Armed with $4,300 the group raised during the year, 10 of ABATE's 120 members started shopping at 2 p.m. Saturday. Four hours later, they handed their purchases over to Craig Fanning of The Salvation Army to be distributed to area youngsters through Sharing the Spirit, a joint program of central Kenai Peninsula organizations that distributes toys and food to families experiencing hardship during the holiday season.
The 10 shoppers went up and down the aisles of Beemun's in Soldotna and Big Kmart in Kenai, filling carts and baskets with toys, books, snowsuits, gloves, hats, everything and anything they could find to bring smiles to the faces of area children on Christmas morning. Big Kmart offered discounts from 25 to 50 percent. Beemun's also gave a discount and threw in a free box of toys.
And there's at least one item in the toy department that future Big Kmart shoppers won't be able to find for awhile.
"We bought all their Harley-Davidson motorcycles," James Reddick said.
"It's our feeling every kid needs a Harley," Craig Rowell,
the group's president, said, laughing. "It's also our way of boosting our future membership."
Fanning is ABATE's newest recruit.
"He wanted to come talk to us and we said OK, buy a membership, and he did," Rowell said.
Liz Dixon of Nikiski was one of the original shoppers when the biking group started doing this 10 years ago. But this year, she said, there are more presents than in the past. Successful fund-raising is the reason.
"We usually have a couple of raffles during the year," Rowell said. "And we have donations. The proceeds are the money we spend on toys ... . This was one of our better years."
ABATE is the largest single group to assist in Sharing the Spirit, according to Fanning.
"This is a big boost to the program," he said. "They put a lot of time and effort into it."
Jane Stein, president of Bridges Community Resource Network's board of directors, praised the group of bikers.
"We really appreciate what ABATE does for us," she said. "They do a lot and seem to really enjoy doing it. It makes a significant difference for us."
In total, more than a dozen agencies, businesses and groups assist in Sharing the Spirit.
"The (Federal Aviation Admin-istration) has an adopt-a-family program," Fanning said. "The (Ladies Auxilliary of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 10046) in Soldotna gave us $500 for Thanksgiving and $500 for Christmas."
Other groups, like the Elks, have angel trees that provide gift-buying suggestions.
According to Fanning's wife, Jeanie, applications to receive food and gifts were distributed throughout an area bordered by Ninilchik, Sterling and Tyonek. On Friday, 288 applications were gathered.
"We were starting to get a little worried," Craig Fanning said of concerns there wouldn't be enough presents to meet the need. But after Saturday's delivery of gifts, his worries were starting to disappear.
Looking at the purchases, the sum total of ABATE's yearlong fund-raising, a smiling Rowell said, "That's some toys."
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