The rattling blat-blat-blat of motorcycle engines shook the air inside Margaritaville’s open lobby on Sunday morning like a portable thunderstorm.
Not exactly sleigh bells, but the 60 bikes roaring out of the hotel and across the island were there to bring Christmas cheer – never mind the skull scarves a couple of riders wore over their faces. After all, Santa was bringing up the rear, waving and hollering, “Ho, ho, ho!” from the back seat of the reindeer-festooned Suzuki Boulevard 800 that was last in the string of bikes.
This is the 16th year that Keith and Casey Keller have organized the ride to coincide with the Toys for Tots drive they run on the island. Mr. Keller owns Cayman Custom Cycles. The couple also organizes an annual fundraiser for the Cayman food bank.
This year’s Toys for Tots turnout was up from the 50 riders that took part last year, Ms. Keller said. Donations are up as well. Bins by the hotel’s Christmas tree were filled with toys, but the organization also collects at other locations in the days leading up to the ride.
“We collected more toys at Cost-U-Less than ever,” she said, busily signing up late arrivals just before the ride got started. “We always get well over 1,000 toys, and it may be more this year.” More cash contributions have also come in, although she did not have an estimate on the amount.
“We’ll have a lot of money to go shopping afterwards,” she said.
By then, she said, the toy donations will have been separated and organized so that she will know what to buy to fill in the gaps and make sure there are adequate age-appropriate toys for the children who come to the Dec. 22 party at Airport Park.
In the past several years, the Kellers have partnered with the Cayman Islands Fire Service to provide inflatable slides, a bounce house, barbecue and a Santa to hand out the toys.
Fire sub-officer Norman Joseph said he got involved with the Toys for Tots ride because of the fire department’s support. He’s done the ride the last three or four years, he said, standing next to his bright red three-wheel Polaris Slingshot.
He’s not sure which he enjoys most, the ride or handing out toys at the park event.
“It’s a toss up,” Mr. Joseph said. “Either one, I’m happy with. I’m doing good somewhere.”
This is the first year that Margaritaville has helped sponsor the event. The riders rode north after leaving the hotel, turning around at the West Bay Police Station. Passing back through George Town, they then headed out to East End, making a stop there before returning to the hotel for a barbecue.
Contrasting the low rumble of the engines was the decidedly lighter voice of Santa Claus. Wanda Watler has done the honors of playing Father Christmas for three years, sitting behind her husband Ladner, flanked by a plush Rudolph whose nose lights up and plays “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“To help the needy is always a wonderful cause,” Mrs. Watler said, her jingle bell bracelets chiming. “I play Santa for a lot of other things.”
Helicopter pilot Jerome Begot, who owns Cayman Islands Helicopters, brought his Norton Dominator SS, one of only 200 of its kind, for the ride. He’s been taking part in the annual event since its inception, he said.
“Keith and his wife have been doing a fantastic job for so long,” Mr. Begot said. “It’s very hard work. It’s long work and they make the kids so happy.”
He said he had provided free helicopter rides to help motivate local schoolchildren when he worked in Canada.
“When I came here and saw Casey and her husband doing that, I said, ‘How can we help?’ At the end, it’s for the kids. There’s no better thing in life than to see a kid with a big smile.”
Ms. Keller said Toys for Tots will continue to take donations through Dec. 18. Collection bins will be stationed at Cost-U-Less and the Book Nook. Donations can also be dropped off at Cayman Custom Cycles on Dorcy Drive.