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A summer tradition raises money for needy children at Christmas

NIAGARA FALLS – Though Christmas is months away on the calendar, the annual Niagara Falls Firefighters Toy Fund Motorcycle Run is just around the corner.

Riders will take off June 22 from the Niagara Falls Fire Department headquarters at 3115 Walnut Ave. Now in its eighth year, the annual run takes riders on a scenic tour, rain or shine, across northwest Niagara County. When the riding is done, the festivities begin, with a party and concert on Old Falls Street next to the Hard Rock Cafe, which is a partner in the event. The party is open to the public and will offer live music, food, drinks and souvenirs for sale.

Registration begins at 10 a.m. at the fire hall and is $20 for riders and $10 for passengers. Motorcycles leave at 11 a.m. and are expected to return between 3 and 4 p.m. Advance registration is not required. Riders will stop along the way to stretch and get a snack and have a chance to roll the dice for cash prizes. Complimentary souvenirs will be provided for all registrants.

“It has been one of our biggest fundraisers. It’s been a great success,” said Niagara Falls Fire Chief Thomas Colangelo. “It’s a good jump-start, something we can do for funds before our telethon.” Gil Burke, chairman of the motorcycle run, said up to 100 or more motorcyclists participate each year. Each rider must be licensed to drive a motorcycle and be riding a registered motorcycle. “It’s a nice, laid-back kind of day. Everybody has a good time, and you know you are supporting the Fire Department’s Toy Fund,” Burke said. He said participants are given maps but ride at their own pace. “We all have the same destination,” he said.

John Castellani, chairman of the firefighter toy fund, said the fund has been helping Niagara Falls for the past 85 years.

“The firefighters in the City of Niagara Falls are very proud to carry on the tradition to get new Christmas toys for impoverished children and new winter clothes for needy children,” Castellani said. He said 1,000 kids get toys, and 400 to 500 get new winter clothes.

“We’re really proud of the work we do, and none of it’s possible without people supporting events like this,” Castellani said.

Colangelo said that when the fund started out, firefighters were repairing broken toys, but it has just mushroomed into much more.

In each of the past few years, the fund has raised about $60,000, which in addition to toys and clothing also has been used to transport seniors in nursing homes to a Christmas lunch event, which includes a live band and visit from Santa.

“Also throughout the year, if a family gets hit by a fire or something like that, we can help out,” Colangelo said.

The Niagara Falls Firefighters Toy Fund is a 501(c)3 charity and is made up entirely of active and retired professional firefighters from the Niagara Falls Fire Department, their families and friends, who volunteer their time and energy each year to accomplish their charitable goals.

“We have events all year long to get the funds together. Niagara Falls is very generous,” Colangelo said. “So we always do well. Even when times are bad it seems like the funds increase more. But expenses are always increasing, so it seems like there is never enough.”