By Ted Waddell
WURTSBORO/WOODBOURNE December 6, 2005 Santa Claus has been getting a "Head Start" on Christmas for the last 20 years, thanks to John O'Toole and all the bike-riding elves of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) Wurtsboro Chapter.
"It's our 20th anniversary," said O'Toole as he watched a bunch of bikers wrap hundreds of gifts in preparation for their traditional journey from O'Toole's Harley Davidson of Wurtsboro over to Sullivan County Head Start in Woodbourne.
"It's difficult times," he added. "This is our way of bringing a little bit of happiness to some kids. . . . We get together and donate toys and wrap presents for the Head Start program."
O'Toole said the other day a little boy asked for a doll for Christmas, and when asked why a boy wanted a doll, the kid said his grandmother was going to visit him over the holidays.
"She likes dolls, and he didn't have a present," said O'Toole.
Kevin Cavanagh is director of the local HOG chapter of about 65 members.
"John does this thing to give back to the community," he said. "We give him a hand because he's always helping us."
Wurtsboro HOG members Patrick Matwiket of Peekskill and Holly Lawrence of Middletown were busy helping wrap presents right up until O'Toole's gift-filled trailer headed down the road.
"It's a good cause, and we want to bring Christmas to the children who are a little less fortunate," said Lawrence.
Joe Andujar retired from the NYPD after 20 years and now works at O'Toole's. A regular on the annual toy run, he left his 2000 and 2003 Harley Davidson Police Specials back in the garage because of the snow-covered roads.
He is a proud member of the standing heroes of September 11, 2001 who still honor the dedication to duty of the fallen heroes of the terrorist attacks of 9-11.
"This is just a way to give back, another way to help out," he said.
Kevin Predmore (aka Santa) normally cruises along on a 2005 Electra-Glide Classic, but due to the weather he elected to ride shotgun in Sgt. John Watson's patrol car.
"It's good stuff for the kids," said Sgt. Watson, a 16-year veteran of the Sullivan County Sheriff's Department.
Rachel Waldman and Ashley Quintero, a couple of 15-year-old sophomores at Fallsburg High, were helping out in the kitchen while an estimated record 350-375 kids lined up to get their eagerly awaited presents from the whiskered, red-suited biker.
Back when she was a five-year-old, Lynette James attended the local Head Start program.
Today, a few years down the road, she works for Head Start and was volunteering for the afternoon along with her seven-year-old daughter Naomi, the first youngster to sign up for the area's Early Head Start program.
"This is a beautiful thing," said James.