Meadville Tribune

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December 20, 2013

Annual A.B.A.T.E. Christmas party puts smiles on faces of many children

MEADVILLE — After meeting Santa Claus Thursday night, it was hard to tell who was wearing the bigger smile — Dawn McFadden or her three children.

“It’s wonderful for families in need,” McFadden said of the annual Christmas dinner and party for children age 12 and under that is put on by Crawford County A.B.A.T.E. (Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education).

McFadden and Richard Bish of Meadville and their three children, Matthew, 9, Alicia, 6, and Christopher, 2, were among the 490 children and adults treated to a home-cooked meal at Stone United Methodist Church that was prepared by A.B.A.T.E. members. The kids then went to the Meadville YMCA to meet with Santa and each child received an age-appropriate gift plus a book.

“It really helps out a lot,” said Richard Bish.

This is the 35th year the motorcycle group has held the party that was started in the late 1970s by the late Richard Riordan and other club officers at the time, according to JoAnne Dederick, current chapter president and Julie Gates, the incoming president in 2014.

Anyone with children 12 and under can participate with no questions asked about income or circumstances. There is no charge to participants, but they must preregister the parents’ or guardians’ names, address and phone number; each child’s name, age and gender; and how many adults will attend.

“We feel it should be carried on,” Gates said why the club has continued the year-round effort to prepare for the party for more than three decades.

“We want to give back locally to our community,” Dederick said of the annual event. Fundraisers are held through the year, including an annual gun raffle, to help offset the costs.

“That (the gun raffle) has helped us increase the value of the toys,” Dederick said.

The total number of attendees for this year — 490 — is up from average years that sees 400 to 450 people, Dederick said. There are no income limits for those attending, Dederick said.

McFadden’s kids said they had a great time — especially when they got to meet Santa Claus after dinner.

“I’m looking for a helicopter,” Matthew responded when asked what he told Santa he hoped for on Christmas.

“A choo-choo,” Alicia said with a big smile when asked what her Christmas wish was.

The children’s smiles are what makes the project so worthwhile, Dederick said.

“It’s for the kids,” she said.

But in a sense, it is for the adults, too, according to McFadden, because it helps motorcyclists break through negative stereotypes.

“I have a lot of respect for the folks of A.B.A.T.E.,” McFadden said. “They do a wonderful job.”

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