NEW PARIS — On Wednesday, Dec. 22, New Paris American Legion Post 360 held its annual giveaway for its Toys for Kids program. Sponsored by the American Legion Riders group, this year officials said the group helped 44 families and 118 children have a merrier Christmas by providing them with gifts and food baskets.
The NP American Legion Riders chapter began in 2007, according to member Joann Ponder.
“We do benefits for different things besides this, but this is our big ride every year that we do. We do benefit rides for people that are sick or in the hospital. We did a park ride for our community park down here in New Paris,” Ponder said last week.
The Toys for Kids drive had been done on a smaller scale in the past, but when the Riders chapter began, the group picked up the activity.
“Because we found out there was a need here in Preble County,” Ponder said. “I know there’s Toys for Tots. And we knew that there was another organization in Preble County that takes on families. But this is more one-on-one.”
“We take donations throughout the year. We do an auction. We do a dance. We do raffles and we take donations throughout the year for this and then the big ride that’s always in August,” she said.
“Last year, which was unusual because of COVID, we had over 200 people that participated,” Ponder said of the group’s big ride. “We usually average around 80 and 100 bikes. We have a lot of the same riders from Preble County, and we have some come from Columbus and Illinois and all over just for this ride. We usually have a dance later on after the auction, and a local band, The Antiques, comes down for that.”
The group got help on distribution day.
“We were pretty fortunate this year because usually it’s just a bunch of, you know — we’re all mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers so we’re getting older — but the FFA knew at National Trail,” Ponder said. “There were probably six seniors that came and helped carry out the food and the gifts and then we’ve got two girls from Eaton that always come and help; one of them is also in FFA.”
The 44 families and 118 children helped through the program are from throughout Preble County, not just New Paris or the National Trail School District.
“When we started out it was just National Trail. We started out with like seven families,” Ponder said. “And then as we continued to grow, we could help more families. Last year we actually helped 50 families. We also help a couple older couples that live on a very low income every year. There’s also a veteran, and a disabled couple who doesn’t have kids but lives on a very low income.”
To find eligible families, the Riders used to go through the Foodbanks and the schools, but due to privacy laws, they had to stop getting their information from the Foodbanks. They now take referrals from the Preble County schools’ Success Liaisons.
“And then once we get permission, we get their phone numbers. We have shoppers within the American Legion. It’s Auxiliary sons, Riders that actually adopt so many families, and then we call them (the families) and we actually specifically find out what the kids want,” she said. “We get their names and their ages and their genders and what they want, so we actually go and shop specifically for them and we don’t put ‘from the Legion Riders,’ we just put their name on them, and then if their parents want to put their names on the gifts they can.”
The parents and pick up the food baskets and the gifts on distribution day.
The Riders spent nearly $12,000 on gifts this year, with $100 spent on each child, according to Ponder.
“And you know, it’s not that we want to toot our own horn, but people need to know because not everybody is in the school district. There are some families who don’t have children in school yet that we’re missing, and we just want people to know.”
“The American Legion riders pretty much stay in form — God and country and community, veterans and children. It’s an organization within the American Legion. But our main goal is to help our community and especially children,” Ponder said.
Ronny Ponder Sr. is president of the Riders.
“Since the inception of the Riders, since we’ve been chartered, we have had several rides and several benefits over the years,” Ponder Sr. said. “We’ve raised and helped raise over $300,000, that we’ve donated.” He said the group has had rides for fallen officers, for the Park Foundation in New Paris and more, including the ones for families who have sick members. “We pay for medical bills, pay for food. We tend to have three rides each summer.”
Fees to enter the rides are $10 for the bike/rider and $5 for each passenger. One hundred percent goes toward the ride’s specific benefit, according to Ponder Sr.
“This organization is kind of my pride and joy,” Ponder Sr. said. “That’s my main focus year round — to especially help provide for those children that need help and who would like to have a little bit of Christmas. Me and my wife both came from families that when we were young, had nothing — and it’s just to be able to help provide some happiness and some cheer for the children. It’s beyond imagination for some people, I’m sure.
“The entire Rider group has the same heart-felt empathy for all these families, and they really, really worked their hearts out,” he said.
“If people are eligible to be a member of the American Legion and would like to be a part of the Riders, all they have to do is be a member of the Legion in some form or fashion. And then they can join the Riders,” Ponder Sr. said.
And you don’t even have to have a motorcycle to be a part of the Riders.
Ponder Sr. closed with lots of gratitude. “Thank you for all the donations we’ve received all year long,” he said. “Thank you, especially to the liaisons from each school district who really work hard to put in our hands some of the names of people who could really use the help, and work with us there. Of course, thanks to all the Legion Rider members and the local businesses that donate. Thanks to anyone who’s helped carry groceries and deliver presents and those types of things that need to be done.
“We want to give them a big ‘attaboy.’”
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Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr.