PRINCETON — Almost 160 local children from 69 families received a taste of Christmas Sunday afternoon in Princeton.
The annual Children’s Christmas Party, sponsored by the Highlands Chapter of the Brothers of the Wheel Motorcycle Club, was held at the Vietnam Veterans of America headquarters.
The party included pizza, snacks, drinks, an elf, Santa Claus and, of course, plenty of gifts for the children.
Sarge Robinette of Princeton, vice president of the Princeton-based club, said the club raises money for the event with bake sales at Walmart and community donations.
The children who receive the gifts are screened through the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), he said.
“We get a sheet that has all the information on each child (gender, age, wish list),” he said. “We do all the shopping.”
Robinette, who has been involved for about 18 years, said club members spend an afternoon shopping and then wrap the gifts as well, with help from their wives.
“We do it all,” he said. “It is absolutely a lot of fun.”
Fellow club member Doc Vaughn, also of Princeton, said he has been with the group for 27 years.
“We spend a hundred bucks on each child,” he said. “All of this is out of our chapter.”
Club President Sleepy Grimmett of Hinton has been in the group longer than anyone else, and said it actually started out as members belonging to ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments), a group that works to preserve freedoms for motorcycle riders.
“Doc and I were with ABATE and talked to members of Brothers of the Wheel and we ended up with them,” he said. “With Brothers of the Wheel, you had to have a benefit every year so we started doing this.”
Bill Archer, Mercer County commissioner and former journalist with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, said he remembers the group when they got started.
“It all started at Bike Works in 1987,” he said, referring to a former bicycle shop on the East End of Princeton. “These guys got together and they started fixing bicycles for kids in the neighborhood.”
The effort evolved, he said, and a couple of years later they started collecting money for what is now the Christmas party.
“Those first years were really humble,” Archer said. “Just a bunch of guys trying to help kids. I was very touched by them. They are really awesome. These guys were like a shining light.”
Grimmett said when they first started it was a matter of finding families who needed help.
“We got hooked up with DHHR about 24 years ago,” he said. “We’ve been with them ever since. They take care of finding the families.”
That makes it easier, he said, because the only thing the club has to do is raise money, get the gifts and throw the party.
“Back years ago, if we had 40 kids we thought we were doing good,” he said. “Every year it kept getting more and more.”
Grimmett said the bake sales raise a lot of money, but people from the community are generous.
“A lot of donations come from people who have known us all these years,” he said. “The same people often donate every year. We appreciate them.”
Besides the party and the huge bag of gifts dispersed to the kids by Santa Claus, the club also provides each family with a box of food to take home, he added.
Grimmett, owner of Sleepy’s Garage in Hinton, is retired now and has 10 motorcycles in his collection.
While he said he enjoys working on them, he looks forward to the parties every year and they are special.
“You can see a lot of kids having a good time,” he said. “Watching the kids smile when they get their gifts – that is the best thing.”
The Brothers of the Wheel MC is an AMA (American Motorcycle Association) Chartered club that was founded in 1977 with the first chapter starting in Milton, WV. The organization has now grown across West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee and is still expanding.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com