CHICAGO (CBS) — The coronavirus pandemic has brought a decades-long tradition to a screeching halt.
The Chicagoland Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade usually heads up Western Avenue from the Dan Ryan Woods at 83rd Street to DePaul College Prep on the former Riverview amusement park site north of Belmont Avenue.
This year, it had been scheduled for Dec. 6. But because of COVID-19, it is not happening at all.
As CBS 2’s Meredith Barack reported, Toys for Tots said canceling the parade was not an easy decision to make. But after going back and forth with the city about hosting the parade, the decision was made Tuesday night to cancel it.
The parade has been a Chicago tradition since 1978. On the first Sunday in December, one typically hears roaring engines heading north on Western Avenue.
But in true pandemic fashion, it ran into issues this year.
“The city said no,” said parade president Lester Fortier.
The city did not say no to the parade altogether. They told Fortier that Toys for Tots could only host the event with a lot fewer bikes than in the past.
“How do you have that with 10 motorcycles in it?” Fortier said.
The move to cancel could now cost thousands of Chicago area kids their Christmas. The group usually collects more than 30,000 toys each holiday season.
“In a normal year, we’ll fill up our warehouse,” Fortier said, “and we take care of orphanages. We take care of outreach centers, and all that kind of stuff.”
And this year, they’re already seeing an increase in people reaching out for help. “They” include Santa Claus.
“For this year alone, I’ve already received in the neighborhood of 6,000 letters, and these are letters from people that are just at the last end the rope,” Santa Claus said. “They’re living in cars. They’ve never been out of homes, or anything else. They’re frightened. They need our help and they need it now.”
Santa Claus, who leads the parade every year, told us the back of his sleigh is usually filled with toys for the parade too.
“We’re going through a very difficult time right now, and more so than ever,” Santa said.
Santa and his elves on wheels are hopeful and in need of help more than ever before to make a wish or two come true this holiday season.
“If you want to know what it’s like to be me, pick up that extra toy,” Santa said.
There are Toys for Tots donation bins all over the city, where you can drop off your donation.
The organization understands how not everyone may be comfortable heading out to the store to buy a toy, so they have also set up a GoFundMe page.
Meanwhile, there have been a number of people upset that this event was canceled, and they are going to come out on their motorcycles anyway. Toys for Tots said it absolutely is not in support of such a thing.
The group said the City of Chicago has been more than generous during past parades. They do not want to ruin that relationship, or jeopardize future parades, so they are asking anyone who might be planning a similar event to stay away from Western Avenue on Dec. 6.
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