Toy story II: Bringing Christmas cheer to kids
The image of motorcycles filling the roads this holiday season, dozens of them roaring and rumbling with riders, might appear at first glance unnerving. However, fear not if you come upon a pack of easy riders on the Sunday before Christmas. They will be bearing gifts and bringing good tidings of great joy.
The Big Nick Toy Run II is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 22. Recently retired Yarmouth Deputy Police Chief Steve Xiarhos and retired Hyannis Fire Department Deputy Chief Dean Melanson, are leading the event, which is hosted by Cape Cod Healthcare, Big Nick's Ride for the Fallen and the Nicholas G. Xiarhos Memorial Foundation Fund.
Like a revved-up reindeer pulling a sleigh, Xiarhos will fire up his Harley-Davidson Street Glide and join with Melanson and fellow cyclists at Yarmouth police headquarters. After packing saddle bags and support vehicles full of toys, they’ll set out “loud and proud” to deliver them to children at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis and Falmouth Hospital.
“It’s about giving back and helping those in need, doing what we can to bring smiles to the faces of children, their parents and the dedicated staff at both hospitals,” said Xiarhos. “Last year we had about 50 gifts and 30 or so riders. I’m sure we’ll have more this year because we’re expanding and going to both hospitals.”
“Last year was kind of spontaneous,” said Melanson. “This year we’ll be a little more organized and, hopefully, a little bigger. No one wants to be in the hospital, especially around Christmas, so to see kids’ eyes light up when we arrive with toys, it fills your heart with warmth.”
Xiarhos and Melanson coordinate the toy ride with Cape Cod Healthcare’s Frank Riccio, Director of Security and Emergency Preparedness. The nurses and staff in the pediatric unit and emergency center at both hospitals will be advised in advance of the motorcyclists’ arrival. The donation of toys is modeled after the U.S. Marines Toys for Toys campaign and collected at the Yarmouth Police Department.
“Pediatrics and ER are locked units so it’s important we communicate what’s happening so everyone’s in the loop and there are no surprises,” said Riccio. “The staff is wonderful. I’m sure they’ll have a tree and decorations, and everyone knows Steve and Dean, so it’s fun for everyone. Being a child in the hospital at Christmas is just awful. We’re grateful for what they’re doing.”
In Nick’s Memory
Xiarhos is the Gold Star father of the late Nick Xiarhos, a Yarmouth native and United States Marine Corporal who was killed in combat in 2009 while on a rescue mission in Afghanistan. The Nicholas G. Xiarhos Memorial Foundation Fund supports local military families, wounded warriors, deployed military troops, local scholarships and other causes. The blood donor center at Cape Cod Hospital is named in his memory and the Xiarhos family has held a blood drive for Cape Cod Healthcare every year since Nick’s death.
Big Nick’s Toy Run II is one of the many “Sun’s Out, Bikes Out Five For Good” charitable rides held nearly every weekend throughout the year. Riders convene at the Old Village Store in West Barnstable. Five dollars (or more) are collected before each ride and a donation is made to a nonprofit or a family in need.
“If the weather is OK, we’re riding,” said Xiarhos. “You’re doing something good and, personally, it’s therapeutic. You’re connected to everything around you when you’re on a bike.”
The annual signature event is Big Nick’s Ride for the Fallen in July to honor Cape Cod’s military heroes and raise awareness of and funds for the Massachusetts Iraq and Afghanistan Fallen Heroes Memorial. The 10th anniversary was celebrated last summer with hundreds of motorcyclists participating in a 40-mile ride from the Barnstable County Sheriff's Office Complex in Bourne to Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School.
“So many people were there for me and my family after we lost Nick,” said Xiarhos. “I want to do what I can to help others. There’s a feeling of pride, but it’s also bittersweet. Every ride is a reminder of Nick and it’s sad, but I’m learning to understand. A fellow rider told me: ‘Nick was doing good things, but he was taken because he was needed to do great things.’ That message was a gift to me and I’ve tried to pass it on to anyone who has lost a loved one."
Xiarhos and Melanson said they hope to collect enough gifts to leave extras behind in the event children are admitted after their visit.
“I’ll never forget last year when we just sort of marched into Cape Cod Hospital,” said Xiarhos. “There was one little boy who didn’t speak English. I think we gave him a fire truck and his mother said it was the first time he had smiled in days. That’s why we do this!”
To learn more details about the ride, visit the Facebook event page here.