Spirit of Jesus, Santa rides with bikers for annual toy drive

Joe Harmon with Soldiers of the Cross rides out with friends after leaving toys and foods for the needy in Modesto on Saturday.
Joe Harmon with Soldiers of the Cross rides out with friends after leaving toys and foods for the needy in Modesto on Saturday. naustin@modbee.com

Dreams of a better day for children brought motorcycle riders and artists together Saturday, gathering around a drive for toys for the needy.

The Love Thy Neighbor Toy Drive and Art Show ran all day at the Soldiers of the Cross headquarters in Modesto’s airport neighborhood. Aerosol artists spray-painted each other’s street names on plywood fencing in the backyard. Neighbors, community figures and friends dropped by to share a bite and peruse an eclectic assortment of art that now fills the renovated building.

The drive collected four 50-gallon drums and two large boxes of toys for the neighboring Modesto Gospel Mission, said Soldiers of the Cross President Dennis Allison. Those will be given to homeless and needy children, many in the same neighborhood, he said.

“We’re strong believers in the gospel mission,” said Marvin Lewis, president of the Stockton Soldiers of the Cross. Lewis and friends brought toys to Modesto that were bought with monthly dues and money from their own pockets, he said. They do it for the kids, he added.

“A lot of us come from bad backgrounds. We don’t want to see kids go through what we went through,” Lewis said. “We change the kids, we change the future.”

Joe Harmon, who rides with the Modesto ministry, said he believes in giving back. “We can’t talk about Jesus and not act like Jesus. Then that’s just words,” he said.

He, too, wants to make a better life for children living in the urban rough. “Convicts, drug dealers and gangbangers. That’s who they know. That’s who most of our fathers and uncles were. That’s what we grew up seeing. We’re trying to give them different role models,” Harmon said.

“Love instead of violence, forgiveness instead of anger. They’ve got to see there’s more to life than what they’re seeing.”

Realism walks hand in hand with the vision, however. Ruben Torres with Love Thy Neighbor said he hopes to offer art instruction and a place to create with the Soldiers of the Cross. “It’s a release. This area needs it,” said Torres as he showed art from prisoners, children, spray-paint art and a range of other media.

“We teach them how to do all this stuff,” he said, “tell them, ‘Don’t go tag the trains and all that. Do it here.’”

Modesto City Councilman John Gunderson spoke at the event. Afterward, he said he hoped to sit down and talk with Soldiers of the Cross and Love Thy Neighbor leaders about how the city could work with the charities in its efforts to help the homeless.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.