HOLYOKE – A host of bikers across the region take to the streets each November to ensure that every child served by Brightside for Families and Children has gifts for Christmas.
Bruce Rivest and Melvyn Hook have been instrumental in the event titled “Hope for the Holidays” which includes a toy drive and a toy run to benefit Brightside.
“I started this Toy Drive/Toy Run to give back to an organization that gave me a family and for the children who are still in need of services,” said Rivest during an interview at Providence Behavioral Health Hospital where Brightside programs are headquartered. “My hope is this organization can make a miracle happen in another child’s life like it did for me.”
Mark Paglia, Brightside Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services, noted how “sincerely grateful” he is for the motorcycle enthusiasts who turn out each fall to support the kids at Brightside.
“We are sincerely grateful for all of the care and time Bruce and Melvyn put in to the Hope for the Holiday’s Toy Run and Drive,” said Paglia. “Their dedication, and the dedication of all of the participants, represents the true spirit of the Sisters of Providence. The motorcycle community really comes together and rallies around the children of Brightside.”
Since its beginning in 1881, Brightside has been an essential part of Western Massachusetts, according to Paglia.
“Currently, Brightside serves over 650 families and children in the area and the need is only growing,” he said. “I am proud to say that with the help of our chief elves Juana Olivera and Myra Lopez, we ensure that every present or dollar raised will be delivered under a child’s Christmas tree on Dec. 25. We are so lucky we have so many people willing to come together to put a smile on a child’s face this year.”
The yearly planning is a labor of love for Rivest, Hook, and their loyal friends who support the event in a variety of ways.
“My now 7-year-old son Dylan keeps me coming out every year, which allows me to show him how important it is to help people who sometimes have nothing or nobody,” said Rivest.
“Hope for the Holidays” encompasses a toy drive Nov. 6 and 7 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Walmart in Chicopee, and a Toy Run on Nov. 8, starting at 11 a.m. from the Walmart in Chicopee and arriving at Providence Hospital. During the toy drive, bikers will be collecting new unopened toys, stuffed animals, gift cards and monetary donations from area residents who wish to brighten the life of a child during the holiday season. Ed Popielarzyk of Magical Moments will also be on hand during both days to make balloon sculptures for children ages three and older. On Nov. 8, registration begins at 9 a.m. and all riders are asked to donate one new, unopened toy.
“We have a new group of riders who will be leading our bike run this year,” said Rivest.
Rivest had recently contacted Bob “Sarge” Kough, past commander of the Southwick American Legion Post 338, about participating in the toy run.
“I was happy Bruce approached me about the toy run,” said Kough. “My guys jumped right at it.”
Kough noted that within an hour of making phone calls, he had 20 “blockers” from across the state lined up to help along the motorcycle route.
“The American Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion will also be participating,” said Kough.
Last year, 600 riders braved the wind and cold temperatures and Rivest is confident that even more riders will consider supporting this event on Nov. 8.
“Our goal is always to hope that the numbers of riders will increase,” said Rivest.
The approximate nine-mile route on Nov. 8 leaves the Walmart parking lot with Santa Claus leading the way and traveling up Route 33 to Route 202, then connecting to Hampden Street and then Northampton Street, culminating at Providence Hospital on Main Street. Hot chocolate and cookies will be served at the hospital for riders as the toys are being unloaded from flatbed trucks.
“We want to acknowledge all of the volunteers who help as ‘blockers’ at key intersections and especially the police departments of Chicopee, South Hadley and Holyoke,” said Rivest.
Rivest noted that he hopes area residents will come out and line the route waving American flags as they pass by.
“Since our run is just before Veterans Day and we have a large presence of military and vets riding, it would be a way to honor those who have served by lining the route,” said Rivest, noting the symbolic statue of the rifle and boots will also be a part of the contingent.
Over the years many local companies have also lent their support to these events including Red’s Towing of West Springfield that will supply the transport vehicles.
“We also thank Indian Motorcycle of Springfield for being a major sponsor and also encouraging riders to participate in the run,” said Rivest.
Once all of the toys are unloaded the after-party will follow at the Moose Club in Chicopee. The general public is also welcome to stop in at the event, which costs $10 per person. Wristbands can be purchased before the start of the ride or at the door.
“We thank Peter Newland of Fat who will be performing, and Z.Z. and Company Barbecue of Pittsfield who will be providing pulled pork sandwiches and salads,” said Rivest, adding that a variety of sauces and dry rubs will also be available for sale.
Rivest also thanked Roland's Motor Works in Easthampton for a clothing donation that will be among the many featured raffle items at the party. A 50/50 raffle is also planned.
Brightside Toy Run shirts, donated by Peter Silvano of Custom Identity Apparel in Chicopee, will also be on sale for $15 at the after-party.
Rain or shine, Rivest and his team will be out in force to welcome everyone who turns out to support “Hope for the Holidays.”
“We’ll always be there for kids in a heartbeat,” said Hook, noting he too was adopted when he was young. “I love giving back to the community and giving back to kids.”
Kough echoed those sentiments.
“Bikers are the greatest group in the world,” said Kough. “Bikers will never say no when it comes to kids.”
Volunteer Jody Lapierre isn’t sure just yet what his role will be for the toy run but is geared up for any task.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to put a smile on a child’s face,” he said.
For more information, visit Brightside’s Hope for the Holidays on Facebook or www.mercycares.com/brightside.
“Bruce and Melvyn and all of the Toy Run participants have placed the needs of the children foremost in their hearts,” said Diane Dukette, Vice President, Fund Development, Sisters of Providence Health System. “Their tireless efforts to bring Christmas joy to the children served by Brightside are truly inspiring.”