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Lita Ruhl, 6, of Meadville was happy after hearing Santa say she would get some earrings, dangling ones, for Christmas at Thursday night’s A.B.A.T.E Christmas party in the Downtown Mall. Ruhl also said she wanted a Barbie Diamond Castle for Christmas.

Moments after having his hands full of Santa’s white beard, and with toy trains the single thing on his mind, Morgan Powell excitedly peeled the paper off of a brightly wrapped package, revealing ... a baby doll.

“Meagan, I got yours! You got mine!,” the five-year-old exclaimed to his twin sister who was standing nearby with a toy truck in hand.

Having solved that mild mystery, the kids proceeded to play with their new presents among the hundreds of others who filled a large, festively-decorated section of Meadville’s Downtown Mall during Thursday’s Toyz for Kidz celebration, hosted by the Crawford County chapter of ABATE of Pennsylvania.

“It’s fantastic,” the twins’ mother, Rhonda Powell, said of the annual Christmas party for county youngsters. “Santa was just a delight — warm, cuddly and wonderful.”

And with about 500 children anxiously waiting for a moment of his time, the big guy in red found himself especially busy at this year’s party.

“I bet it’s twice as much as last year,” chapter spokesperson JoAnne Dederick said of Thursday’s turnout. “That just goes to show the need is definitely out there.”

The county’s chapter of ABATE (the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education) has been hosting the parties for the last 29 years. To pull it off, the nonprofit organization — which has grown to more than 200 members in the past few years — hosts fundraising poker runs and membership drives, solicits community donations and places 55-gallon toy-collection barrels at participating area businesses, said Dederick.

This year, she said, a total of 20 barrels were filled.

ABATE’s food committee also provides full meals for everyone in attendance at the celebrations.

Along with ol’ St. Nick, special guests including Squeeze the Clown and DJ Red Dawg provided kid-friendly entertainment and music at Thursday’s party.

Toyz for Kidz is ABATE’s signature annual community event, said Dederick, but it also coordinates and hosts fundraising events for other area organizations and institutions including the Autism Society of America, the Oncology Wellness Institute and, with help from the only organized Junior ABATE group in the state, the Crawford County Humane Society.

The local chapter is part of the nationwide organization of motorcyclists, which describes itself as “dedicated to the protection of the individual rights of motorcyclists through political change, public education, and charitable works.”

Its members work to eliminate what they see as unfair motorcycle-related legislation, promote motorcycle safety through both rider and motorist education and improve the image of motorcyclists to the general public.

That is, when they’re not busy planning what’s become of the area’s largest community Christmas celebrations.

“I think we’re outgrowing our space,” Dederick said. “And I expect it to grow more and more.”



Did you know?

The Crawford County chapter of ABATE (the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education) of Pennsylvania was founded in the 1970s. The chapter has the only organized Junior ABATE group in the state, with 25-plus junior members.

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