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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pocono, PA - Angels in leather embody spirit of Christmas

BY: Howard Frank

A tall, thin man rests his knee on the ground beside bags of groceries. He carefully surveys their contents. His long, pointed beard and biker outfit make him look like a cross between a member of ZZ Top and a Hells Angel on double-secret probation.
He was an angel all right. Just a different type.
It was the Pocono Mountain H.O.G. Chapter's first food drive for needy families. H.O.G., as in Harley Owners Group.
Antique motorcycles lined the perimeter of the large open room on the second floor of Schoch Harley-Davidson in Snydersville this past Sunday.
In the center of the room, hundreds of cans and boxes of food covered tables. Surrounding the bounty stood about two dozen men, women and children wearing a combination of leather, black T-shirts or faded blue jeans.
At first glance it seemed an unusual setting for a group that rides $20,000 custom-designed rockets on wheels.
"Just because we're big, burly Harley people doesn't mean we don't have soft hearts," said Ty Shoemaker, the chapter's director. "I haven't seen an organization that gives more than the people that wear leathers."
The chapter this month set up a booth in Kinsley's Shoprite in Brodheadsville. Some members asked shoppers to consider donating nonperishable food.
Shoppers saw beyond the burly figures standing in front of the motorcycle club banner that hung on the booth. One shopper approached with four bags of groceries — three large ones and a smaller one.
"We expected the smaller bag," Shoemaker said. "She gave us everything except the smallest bag."
The group's initial goal was to collect food for 15 families. But the response was far better than expected. Enough food, in fact, to feed 47 families. So on Sunday, the chapter gathered its members to bag the groceries for needy families.
Food items were stacked high and deep on the tables. Bush's Beans, sweet peas, oatmeal, pasta, corn, mac and cheese, soups. Dozens of cans of Chef Boyardee. Charity doesn't discriminate among palates.
With utter precision, club Secretary Lori Schuttert quarterbacked the process of converting the mountains of food into bundles for needy families.
She barked orders to the H.O.G. members.
"Fred, I need 16 cans of tuna," she said. "Big families get a big can of tuna."
The burly men quickly complied.
It was a group of individuals linked by their common love of riding, but also joined in conscience and in their compassion for those who are suffering.
Schuttert, a horticulture instructor at the Monroe Career and Technical Institute in Bartonsville, coordinated the distribution with Tanya Carmella-Beers, an administrator at the school.
"Forty-six percent of our students participate in the free or reduced lunch program. That's double what it was 10 years ago," she said.
Carmella-Beers made a list of families, known only to her, she identified as in need. She was uniquely qualified to do this.
"Our kids are with us for three years and we get to know them," she said.
The connection with the Career and Technical Institute was more than just strategic. The chapter didn't want to have families coming in to Schoch's to pick up the donations and risk making them feel self-conscious.
Carmella-Beers would handle the distribution of food from the Career and Technical Institute.
Later Sunday morning, about 200 members of the Polar Bear Grand Tour motorcycle club, with chapters across the northeastern U.S., joined the Pocono Mountain H.O.G. Chapter at Schoch Harley-Davidson.
Like a convention of Santas in leather, eschewing reindeer for hogs, they brought barrels filled with food donations.
The real heroes, of course, are those who loaded those tables with food donations. They reached into their own pockets to help others.
"It's the hard times," H.O.G. member Mike Kish said. "It just feels really good to help someone. It goes to show you the community pulls together to help someone in need."
The Pocono Mountain H.O.G. Chapter is a reminder of many things.
Charity. Volunteerism. Kindness.
And maybe when I see someone who looks or dresses differently than me, I'll take a moment to stop before I judge.
Look beyond the shaved heads and leather jackets. Look into their hearts instead.
And in those, I just may find the true meaning of Christmas.