ECHO — The Echo Toy Run revs up the spirit of the season by providing gifts to kids in the hospital.

In its 16th year, the event is being held in memory of longtime organizer, Al Sells. The Stanfield man died Aug. 1 in a motorcycle crash.

Sells led the pack each year as anywhere from dozens to more than 100 bikers from across the region rode the approximate 10 miles from Echo to Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston. Straddling Cooter, his 2004 Harley Wide-Glide, Sells always had stuffed animals strapped to the front of his bike and on the back, a large American flag waved in the wind.

“I appreciate Al’s efforts to organize and keep the toy run going,” said Kelly Sanders, vice president of human resources at Good Shepherd Medical Center. “He was always the first to arrive and last to leave and seemed to do it all out of the kindness of his heart.”

The generosity of the bikers lasts well beyond the holiday season. In addition to providing gifts to kids in the hospital during Christmas, toys are available for staff to give to children who might benefit from having their spirits lifted throughout the year. Also, Sanders said they share some with the Hermiston Police Department’s Christmas Express program and other needy children in the community.

As word of Sells’ passing spread throughout the biker community, people were already talking about carrying on the tradition he started with the help of former owners of the old Echo Saloon. Daughters Amanda Silvani of Umatilla and Tia Barden of Arlington, Washington, were overwhelmed with the interest in continuing the annual holiday season toy run. Less than a week after their father’s death, plans were starting to gel for this year’s event.

“It’s been really easy because a lot of the motorcycle groups want to see it continue,” Silvani said. “Everyone says, ‘Let’s keep this going in his memory.’”

Also, Barden emphasized that her father’s legacy goes beyond just the Echo Toy Run. It’s her hope that people will continue to give back to their communities in a variety of ways. Charitable efforts of the biker community, she said, are often overlooked.

“It’s a different perspective of what most people think about people who ride a Harley and wear leathers,” Barden said. “His giving back was amazing.”

Sanders agreed, saying people might have viewed Sells as a little rough around the edges. However, he was quick to point out that Sells and the other bikers who regularly participated in the toy run have hearts of gold.

“Our community is a better place because of Al Sells and the influence he had on so many,” Sanders said. “Al was a genuine man who made a difference in our community. I’m pleased that the toy run can continue in his name.”

The 16th annual Echo Toy Run is Saturday, Dec. 7. It will depart at noon from Main Street, Echo. Bikers will lead the way with cars and trucks following as they deliver new unwrapped toys to Good Shepherd. Hospital employees will greet the group when they arrive and offer coffee, hot chocolate and pastries. Afterward, participants are invited to gather at the “Fallen Biker Bench” at the Hermiston Cemetery.

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Contact Community Editor Tammy Malgesini at tmalgesini@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4539

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