More than 550 motorcyclists slid into the saddle for the 40th annual Toys 4 Tots Ride on the Emerald Coast in Fort Walton Beach on Sunday. All proceeds were split evenly between the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center and Children in Crisis.

FORT WALTON BEACH — Hundreds of motorcyclists joined together on Sunday to burn some rubber for two local children’s charities.


With the motto "ride and have fun," the Emerald Coast Harley Owner’s Group, or "HOG," hosted its 40th annual Toys 4 Tots Ride on the Emerald Coast. Riders gathered at Sam’s Club in Fort Walton Beach and rode with a police escort to the Mullet Festival Fairgrounds in Niceville, where events including a costume and slow-riding contests were held.



Each participant paid $10 and donated a toy or gift card, which was split evenly between the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center and Children in Crisis.


"This really kicks of Christmas for the children that we see at the center," said Julie Porterfield, CEO of the group. "Without these folks, some children would go without Christmas. ... This is really ancillary to the services we do for the kids everyday."


According to Ken Hair, president and CEO of Children in Crisis, the two organizations are "natural teammates," although they aren’t actually affiliated. Both have benefited from the event for more than a decade.


"They stop the abuse, (and) we give them a home if they can’t go back to their home," he said. "These bikers have a good heart, (and) they really bend over backwards for the children. ... We couldn’t do everything we do during Christmas without their help."


More than 550 riders, split between nearly 400 bikes, participated in the event.


"(It shows) how much bikers, riders and the community care about our children’s charities," said Adam Babcock, Toys 4 Tots Ride coordinator.


Babcock also praised the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office for its support in helping keep the ride safe.


According to OCSO Captain Mark Raiche, a joint effort between local law enforcement agencies provided the exclusive path for riders.


Contributing organizations included the Fort Walton Beach Police Department, the Shalimar Police Department, the Valparaiso Police Department and the Niceville Police Department.


"This is a great community showing of the focus on raising money for these nonprofits that help kids," he said. "We want this to be a safe event, (and) we want to make sure that the focus stays on helping the kids."