To the unknowing Christmas shoppers in Walmart last Saturday, it must have looked a little strange: the large group of biker-gear clad, bandanna-sporting, boots-wearing motorcycle riders storming the aisles of the store, lists in hand, searching for the perfect toy, t-shirt or coat for children they don't even know.

But, if those shoppers viewing this unusual spectacle knew what was at the heart of the rough and tumble activity before them, they would have seen just that: heart, and a whole lot of it.

“We just want to help the community, and give something to the kids that really, really need the help,” said Doc, (these bikers go by nicknames only) vice president of the Mercer County chapter of Brothers of the Wheel, a motorcycle club dedicated to “riding, enjoying life, and doing good things for the community.” “We know that if wasn't for us doing this, a lot of these kids wouldn't have a Christmas at all.”

And that is the sole purpose behind the Mercer County Brothers' annual holiday excursion to the Princeton Walmart, where this year they spent some $6,500 in the effort to make Christmas special this year for 64 local children of needy families. Working with the Mercer County Department of Health and Human Resources, the Brothers seek out families and children in need of assistance and work to fulfill the kids' Christmas wishes each year. This year marks the 11th consecutive holiday partnership between the organization and the DHHR.

“The workers there know what these families and kids need, and we just feel they can do a better job than we can in identifying the needs,” said Doc. “With their help, we can take care of more kids.”

And, take care of them, they do. From proceeds gained through the Brothers' yearly bake sales, raffles, charity runs, and fundraising drives outside of Walmart, the group spends $100 on each child identified for help. They buy the toys topping the kids' wish lists, the winter coats they need, and the clothes that will keep them warm all through the cold months to come. On top of that, the Brothers provide a full-course Christmas meal for each child's family, ensuring that, at least on Christmas Day, they will have a reprieve from their hard times and the chance that everyone deserves to feel their home filled with the special warmth of the holiday season.

“Once you see the expression on the children's faces when they get their presents, that makes it all worthwhile for us,” said Doc. “You know you've done something good and you've done that something good for a child, and that's a great feeling. Our only goal is just to make sure these kids have a good Christmas and that their families have at least a good Christmas meal.”

The Brothers have worked with the DHHR for 11 years, but they've been completing Christmas charity projects for much longer. For the past 20 years, the group has worked together to bring the holiday spirit into the hearts and homes of needy families throughout the area, working with such worthy groups as the Salvation Army and the Bluefield Union Mission before partnering with the DHHR.

This weekend, the tight-knit Brothers will join together again, this time to host a Christmas party where they will have the much-anticipated chance to pass out the gifts to the children and families for whom they have worked so hard to raise money this year. According to Doc, it is that annual party and the joy it brings to the children that makes Christmas especially dear to the members of the Brothers.

“Christmas is for kids, and especially in doing something for the needy kids, it just makes the holiday that much more special for us,” he said.

— Contact CharLy Markwart at cmarkwart@ptonline.net.

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