Any other year, the families would gather on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend at the local ballfield in the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, New York. The kids would learn about bike safety from a police officer, they’d recite the Pledge of Allegiance, sing “God Bless America,” and then take off on their trikes for an ocean-view ride.
At ride’s end, they’d return to the ballfield for a big celebration that included a DJ, a bouncy house and a barbecue.
Yeah, the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon is kind of a big deal for the Little Tots Red Wagon school and the larger community of some 2,800 households. And it will be again this year, even amid the pandemic.
“Our community is so known for fundraisers,” said school director Theresa Hyland, born and raised in Breezy Point. “Everybody is giving. It’s a good community, a good bunch of people.”
Some of their causes hit extremely close to home — about 30 residents, including numerous police and firemen, died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and about 350 homes in the neighborhood were destroyed by flooding and fire from Hurricane Sandy.
Other causes touch their hearts from more than a thousand miles away. That’s the case with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Little Tots Red Wagon has participated in the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon since 2004, raising $117,000 heading into this year’s event on May 22.
The St. Jude Trike-A-Thon is a national fundraising program that features kids, their families and schools, from Breezy Point to Alaska. Some 500,000 kids, mostly from preschool through third grade, are expected to participate through June 30.
And yes, like so many other social gatherings during the pandemic, it’s going virtual. This year, families across the country can bring the St. Jude Trike-A-Thon to their own neighborhoods and driveways. Throughout the week of the event, kids learn about trike safety via videos and coloring books from the characters Bikewell Bear and Pedals the Bunny. At the end of the week, kids take rides that families can post on social media. Families are encouraged to get creative with their fundraising through such offerings as custom sidewalk chalk portraits ($10) and video shout-outs on social media ($25).
Some of the community spirit and camaraderie may be missing, but the essence of the event remains: It’s kids helping kids.
“That’s exactly how I say it to parents,” said Hyland, who grew up watching telethons from St. Jude featuring founder Danny Thomas, and whose mother donated to St. Jude. “And we explain to the children, ‘You’re healthy. There are children who are not healthy. There are children who have to stay in a hospital.'
“We don’t say cancer or anything like that. But we tell them there are children who are sick: 'You help raise money to help these children, and they can get better.'”