I don’t think I’ll ever look at a motorcycle-riding group the same way again after learning of their rides for charity — particularly that of the Highland-based Iron Riders Motorcycle Club, who has been raising money for local children in need for over a decade. Its most recent fundraising cause? A 9-year-old girl, Andrea Langston of Modena, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
“She has a twin who does not have the disease, but Andrea? She is wheelchair-bound, can’t walk or talk — but she smiles a lot, which is so beautiful,” said Ray Delcato, a member of the Iron Riders Motorcycle Club.
According to Delcato and Toni Elia, the secretary of the Motorcycle Club and wife of Mark Elia, the Club’s president, through word of mouth they hear of various children in need, conduct interviews with the children and their families and decide which would make the best fit for what they’re able to do. In this particular case, after interviewing Andrea’s parents, they realized that the best thing that they could do to help her quality of life was to fundraise for the materials, trucks and paving needed for the Langston family’s 500-foot-long driveway.
“It sounded like a small thing at first, but when we took a ride out to look at the driveway, our jaws dropped,” said Elia. “It was filled with potholes and uneven slopes, and during inclement weather the school bus would not drive up there to pick her up.”
As a result, either Andrea didn’t go to school, or her parents had to try to wheel her down a treacherous driveway. “A month ago they attempted this and hit a pothole and Andrea fell out of her wheelchair and broke her arm,” said Elia. “We knew that this was something we could do, that we had to do.”
The Club, 23 members strong, was chartered 12 years ago by then-founding member Steve Vaccaro. According to Toni Elia, who owns Elia’s Catering Company and the House of Sausage with her husband, who is also an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, Vaccaro had suffered from Type 1 childhood diabetes his entire life. “That was before some of the treatments and medicine they have now to help combat the illness,” she said. “So when he was in his 50s he began to get very sick. Our goal as a club was to try and get him qualified for a kidney transplant.”
When the kidney transplant was denied due to the doctor’s belief that he might not withstand the operation, his fellow friends and Motorcycle Club riders asked what else they could do for him. “He said, ‘Fundraise for children in need in our area. They need us. Please.’”
To that end, every July the Iron Riders host a benefit ride and all-out Texas barbecue at the Cluett-Shand Park in Milton to raise money for a local child in need. “The cost is $25 per cyclist or $45 per pair, or for those that just support the cause,” said Delcato. “And you will never get a full Texas barbecue like we prepare for that amount of money.”
As the riders arrive at the park, food is plentiful with beef briskets, pulled pork, barbecued ribs, homemade sausage-and-peppers and fresh corn-on-the-cob, as well as hot dogs and hamburgers made fresh by the Elias’ catering and sausage company. “Mark Elia is not only an outstanding human being, but an expert chef whose homemade hot dogs literally melt on your tongue,” said Delcato. “This man is so talented and in demand, yet he gives his time and energy and expertise back to our community, to the children who need it. You’ll never find a better guy than him.”
After burying their beloved charter member and founder Vaccaro, the Iron Riders set out to do much more than just enjoy each other’s company on rides throughout the Hudson Valley. They wanted to concentrate their love of riding as a metaphor for loving those in need. “That was 12 years ago,” said Toni Elia. She recalled that the group’s first two fundraisers went towards the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie for kids age 6 to 18 — some of them temporary residents and some of them permanent until they turned 18. “It’s all word-of-mouth, “ she said. “We’re not about donating to some grand operation, but supporting those who are in need right in our back yard.”
To that end, the first two years after Vaccaro passed away, Elia made contact with the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie. “One need that was raised in the interview was that the children had no bikes. Children should have bikes!” Elia contacted a bike company, and the Iron Riders motorcycles rode into the circular driveway of the Home with loud cheers and applause, because each and every child had a bike fitted for him or her, with his or her name on it and styled to his or her gender. “The cries and tears of joy as those riders and bikes came in is something I’ll never forget,” said Elia. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Fast-forward a few years, and Elia and members of the Motorcycle Club can recall other children, faces, families, struggles that they did their best to support. They’ve helped local terminally ill children and their families go to Disney World.
Elia dearly remembers one child from Highland named Nicole, who suffered from spinal muscular atrophy and at the age of 13 “could not walk or talk. She was so tiny and frail she looked like an 8-year-old, yet her spirit was indomitable.”
After speaking with the family and Nicole, they thought that the best thing that they could fundraise for was a motorized scooter. “We told Nicole that we weren’t sure, that we’d try. But at our July barbecue and fundraiser, we had already ordered the scooter with her name on the license plate and 50 balloons attached to it.”
When Nicole saw the scooter, Elia said that her “smile gave so much warmth and joy that we were all uplifted and ecstatic.” She remembers Nicole’s father lifting her out of the wheelchair and onto the scooter, and Nicole’s sense of freedom as she hit the gas pedal. “She’d always been obliged to have someone push her, and then in that one moment, she was free! It was like she grew a pair of legs.”
Nicole has since passed away, as have many of the children whom the Iron Riders have supported. “All we can do is to try and give a child some wings, some support, their family some support,” said Delcato. “We have an amazing membership who cares so deeply about others in our community. Yes, we ride together; but we also ride in solidarity for those that are hurting, for those that need our help and need whatever we’re able to provide for them. It’s an honor to be a part of this club.”
The most recent Texas-style barbecue to fundraise for Andrea was a rain out, a washout. “We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature,” said Delcato. “But we showed up; we rode; the barbecue went on; and when all was said and done, we reached out to those people that we knew to help get the job done.”
And the job was done! The materials for the driveway were donated by Tilcon. Dean’s Paving of Wallkill, along with Mehlon’s Trucking, Paul Colucci, Barclay Trucking and J. K Watson Trucking all helped to supply and truck in the materials and pave a new driveway for Andrea and her family.
“We were not blessed with the greatest day in terms of weather, but we were blessed with such amazing volunteers. The driveway is beautiful. Andrea can travel safely, as can the bus. That’s what we’re about!”
To learn more about the Iron Riders Motorcycle Club, go to www.ironridersmc.com.