OKEECHOBEE — On Friday, Dec. 7, Big Lake Missions Outreach, along with Reno’s Motorcycle Service & Defenders Law Enforcement Club, held their 25th annual Toy Run/Bike Run and had a wonderful turnout, according to Mary Anne Swinford, who has run the Big Lake Mission with her husband, Bruce, for many years. They met at the Brahman Theater and had 79 bikes this year. The riders were gone for about three hours, she said, and this year they had no breakdowns or problems of any kind.
Mrs. Swinford said the run was a great success financially as well. “Those bikers know how to give,” she said. She explained that on the morning of the run, everyone meets at the theater and signs in. They each put in a donation of any amount they choose as their entrance to the run. Years ago, they used to stop at a restaurant for lunch, but Mr. Reno suggested providing the lunch for them, and they can donate for the lunch, too. The bikers all liked that idea, so they have been doing it that way ever since.
After the run, they met back at the Eagle’s Club for lunch. The sheriff’s office furnished a tent, and they rented tables and chairs. The lunch was prepared by Jamie and Nikki Mullis, and the food was provided by Roy and Julie Reno and Big Lake Missions. They also had a raffle and a 50/50.
They raised enough to ensure a lot of families have a great Christmas, she said. “You just can’t out-give those bikers, especially the Eagles.” They use the money to buy gifts for local children from newborn to 18 years old. They will also help with gifts for “special need” adults. She said she never has understood setting an age limit on children’s Christmas gifts. “If they have a rule they only buy for ages 6 to 12, what happens to the 4-year-old sister or the 14-year-old brother?” she asked. “Do they just watch while the other kids open their gifts? I know what it is to get less, and I don’t want any kid to feel that way.” They get calls from some families when they need help, and some come from referrals. After the paperwork is filled out, the parent is given a big black garbage bag filled with unwrapped gifts. That way the parent can wrap them and put them under the tree, and they can be from Santa or whoever the parent chooses. The parent can feel like they are a part of giving the gift. The mission even furnishes wrapping paper.
The toy drive originally started with Park Street Mission, and when Fran Thomas died and his wife, Mary, went to Mexico to be a missionary, Big Lake Mission “took on the mantle” and began handling the toy drive. It is in its 25th year now. Sometimes people donate Christmas things throughout the year, and they save them for the following Christmas. “True blue Publix always gives us things after the holiday,” she said. “We can always count on them.” When small, dollar store type things are given, they use them as stocking stuffers. “We use everything,” she said.
They are looking forward to another event that has been going on every year for a long time. A Canadian mobile home park, Heritage Village, holds a golf cart parade each year. Everyone decorates their cart, and Bruce Swinford pulls a decorated trailer behind his truck. They go up and down every road in the park, and people come out of their homes and place donations in the trailer. Some donate Christmas gifts. Some bring cleaning supplies or food, and some even give money. “It’s so much fun,” said Mrs. Swinford. “We never know what they are going to bring, but they are always very generous.
As always, they will have a Christmas dinner for the people who eat lunch with them daily at the Methodist Church.