The Coalition working for the Community
Photos and Story by: Ricky J. Carrasco
In these images, you can see what the El Paso biker is really about: their bikes, camaraderie, riding, pulling together for what is important, something bigger than themselves. What does the general public see? Leather, loud pipes, tattoos, “Sons of Anarchy”, bad attitude. For the most part, the EP biker does not care about their perceived image. They will continue to do their work in the community despite a general prejudice and fear against them.
On November 6th, the annual Coalition Toy Run ran this year from its usual Sunland Park beginning to this year’s destination at Cohen Stadium in the northeast. The numbers are impressive, more so because they are produced by the same leather clad, tattooed, big rough bikers people shy away from. Almost 900 people registered, close to 2000 bikes participating. More than a thousand toys were collected at the time of the run and almost six thousand toys will eventually be distributed because of this run. “We get requests for these toys throughout the year from various community and non-profit agencies that serve needy children all over the county. Such agencies like the YWCA, Aliviane, the Socorro migrant program, programs that serve the various colonias in the area all request, receive and distribute these toys for us,” says Ryan LaBarbera, Coalition Chairman. “Even from about 8 years ago, when Margarita’s on the east side hosted this event, the event has grown immensely. “
The Coalition has worked hard to have its clubs and EP bikers participate in the community. “We heavily suggest that our clubs participate in the community, host runs and give to charity. We try to keep our members informed about what’s going on, not just in the biker community, but in El Paso in general. I think that the community knows that we are involved because we have many members of the community, agency representatives and area politicians, come to our meetings. They know we participate, they know we vote. I think they know we care.”
Gracie Martinez, President of the Road Queens MC and Coalition Secretary, also stated that the Coalition is a very inclusive organization, “We always encourage independent riders to participate in the coalition. Every rider, whether they belong to a member club or not, whether they ride a little or a lot, can come participate in meetings.” Gracie says that many parade participants only come to be part of the parade, register, drop off toys, ride in the parade, then leave, never attending the party afterwards.
The secret to the Coalition’s success has been this inclusion, camaraderie, and communication between the clubs. LaBarbera remembered a story from that day, “The mayor invited an acquaintance from out of town to come ride with us in the parade. The gentleman was amazed by what he saw before the parade: a thousand bikers from many different clubs, cruisers, choppers, sport bikes, all just hanging out peacefully. We’re used to it and we expect it, but it’s certainly not the norm outside of El Paso. The public gets stuck in the leather, in the image of the ‘biker’. But the truth is that here in El Paso, it simply hasn’t been the biker getting arrested for drunkenness, for fighting in public, for generally getting into trouble.”
I told LaBarbera that last year, I attended the bikers Christmas visit to University Medical Hospital where they visited sick children and gave out toys. About 40 “typical” bikers attended, all wearing black leather, most wearing patches, and mine was the only news camera there.
“We really haven’t seen a change in the biker image. We can only keep doing what we’re doing. We know that as a whole, bikers represent one of the biggest charity organizations in the country. We in El Paso have 42 clubs, more than half are always active. We have charitable runs most weekends going on somewhere, most of which have at least 200 people participating. We support one another in .“
LaBarbera, Martinez, and Larry “Dimple” Galvan, Coalition Co-Chair and Survivors MC president, would like to thank everybody who came out and participated in the parade and in the many functions throughout the year and everybody who helped in making this toy run a success from the owners of Cohen Stadium to the EP Police Department for escorting the route. They look forward to the distribution of the toys this year and another successful efforts through the El Paso biker community in the years to come.
Coalition Chairman Ryan LaBarbera and friend between some of the many sorted boxes of toys that will be distributed to needy children around the El Paso area.