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Toy Run renamed in memory of longtime leader
The New Hampshire Motorcyclists Rights Organization is naming its annual Toy Run in memory of a Londonderry woman who helped start the event and ran it for decades.
Joanne Packard died in September, one week after hundreds of motorcyclists rode from Concord to Manchester loaded with toys to donate to the New Hampshire Union Leader Santa Fund for The Salvation Army for the 36th straight year.
Fittingly, the New Hampshire Motorcyclists Rights Organization (NHMRO) board of directors voted to attach Packard’s name to the cause she loved so dearly.
“We just felt it was the right thing to do because she was so instrumental in starting it and making it what it has become,” said Traci Beaurivage, NHMRO president.
So next fall when hundreds of bikers gather in Concord for the annual drive to Manchester, they’ll be taking part in the Joanne Packard Memorial Toy Run. “It’s still our (NHMRO) toy run, but we want it named after Joanne.”
The move had wide support from anyone who knew Packard, whose husband, Sherm, was a founding member of NHMRO. He was touched to learn of the gesture.
“She was just that type of a person. She wanted to help other people and make sure that no kid went without toys at Christmas,” Sherm Packard said Monday of his late wife.
Packard, who has served 14 terms in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, said the toy run was one of many causes his wife of 52 years held dearly. She also served on the board of directors for a local soup kitchen for nine years and contributed whenever or whatever she could to many other causes.
“She was just an absolutely amazing person when it came to trying to do everything she could to help those that were a little less fortunate than we were,” Packard said. “It wasn’t just kids. Obviously she loved kids and wanted to do everything she could to make sure kids were happy, but she just wanted to help people.”
Although he gets the credit, Packard said Joanne was also instrumental in establishing NHMRO; she got the idea for the toy run after hearing of similar events in other states.
“It started a little bit small, but then it blossomed into a major event every year in the state of New Hampshire,” Packard said.
In years when the weather has cooperated, Packard said as many as 1,000 bikers would take part in the toy run, each of them toting stuffed animals, board games or other gifts for kids that would be given to the Salvation Army when the ride ended in the Union Leader parking lot.
“I know it’s been a major help to the Salvation Army and their toy drive,” Packard said. “We’ve collected a lot of toys over the years for needy kids in the state of New Hampshire.”
Each year, the Salvation Army would load a trailer with a stash of toys to be distributed through the Santa Fund closer to Christmas.
Organizing the ride could be time-consuming and challenging, but Packard said his wife always felt it was worthwhile when wave after wave of bikes entered the parking lot and the riders lined up with arms full of toys.
“She had been involved with it from the whole time it was in existence and she had literally run it for over 20 years,” he said. “Every time it was over, she was just so happy that so many people showed up and so many people donated toys to help the kids.”
Beaurivage said NHRMO is also donating about $4,000 in cash raised at this year’s toy run to the Salvation Army in memory of Joanne Packard.
Packard, who died Sept. 16 at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., started turning over the toy run organization duties a few years ago.
Betty Rock, her successor, said Joanne was a tremendous help and mentor whose name deserves to be part of the toy run.
“She would be thrilled. A wonderful woman — absolutely wonderful woman. Can’t say anything bad about her. She was fantastic to work with,” Rock said.
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