Estrada, Blue Knights ride to end hunger
Actor Erik Estrada led a band of 76 motorcycle riders on Saturday, July 14 from Anchorage to Alyeska and back to Chugiak in the “Riding to End Childhood Hunger” event to support Eagle River-based non-profit organization Dare to Care. The motorcycle riders raised $7,000 for the school lunch program, which benefits students in the Matanuska-Susitna and Anchorage School Districts.
Brad Brisson, of Anchorage, and a Chaplain in the Blue Knights of Alaska, was one of the riders. He said the law enforcement motorcycle club chooses one charity each year and raises funds for a ride to help that charity.
“Erik was coming up here to raise money and we all decided to join in with him,” says Brisson, known as “Padre” to his Blue Knight brothers.
“I’m here to support Dare to Care,” he said, “and also to have an opportunity to ride with my brothers in the Blue Knights and to be a show of support in our community.”
Before the ride, Brisson led the group of riders in a prayer, with Estrada and Dare to Care Founder and Executive Director Bettsie Wild at his side. In an emotional plea, Estrada asked the riders to think about a time when they were hungry and then asked them to consider being a hungry child in school having to concentrate with hunger pangs.
The riders left the Dimond Center at 10:15 a.m. and arrived at Chugiak Elementary School at about 2 p.m.
“It went way better than we had expected, being our first ride,” Wild said. “You know it’s kind of scary doing anything the first time around.”
She said Dare to Care currently provides money for school lunches for more than 3,500 children.
Wild and her daughter Lena met Estrada in California doing public relations work for Dare to Care. When they told him about their school lunch program, she said, he didn’t hesitate to get involved.
“He and his family have jumped in with both feet,” Wild said.
“My interest in Dare to Care is simple,” Estrada said, “I want to help make a change for the kids here. Hunger is a terrible thing for anyone to experience, but, in a child, it’s truly a tragedy.”
The idea to stage the ride came about in Feburary, when Estrada first visited Alaska to help raise funds for the charity.
At that time, he approached UAA Police chief Rick Shell — who was then vice president of the Blue Knights — with an idea about doing a charity ride for Dare to Care. Estrada is an honorary International Blue Knight.
“I don’t think it took a lot of building up,” said Shell. “[With] cops and kids — you can tug on any cop’s heart strings with kids.”
He said what impressed him the most was that Dare to Care is a home-grown charity.
“It started with a little girl giving a hungry girl a sandwich and one mother who tried to help and ran into a lot of road blocks,” Shell said.
From there, the Blue Knights put their community connections into action and solicited flat rate donations for the ride. And, while the Blue Knights often ride for charities as a club, this ride included motorcycle riders from outside the club.
“We opened this ride up to the community because of the celebrity,” says Shell.
The Aleyska Resort hosted the midway pit stop for the ride and provided refreshments for the riders. The Girdwood resort also donated a dinner and two nights’ stay for the rider who raised the most money.
Shell won the award for raising $700, then raffled it back to the riders to raise another $300 for Dare to Care.
Many area businesses were involved in supporting the Dare to Care ride, Wild said. Spenard Builders in Eagle River and Carlisle Transportation built a stage for the barbeque at the end of the ride at Chugiak Elementary School, where The Council of Smokers and Drinkers provided live music. The Hilton Hotel auctioned one night’s stay, a dinner and a dozen roses, Mrs. Fields Cookies hosted breakfast at registration and made a large personalized cookie for the event, Cookies for You in Eagle River donated cookies for the riders and Oopsie Daisy donated flowers.
Wild said she and Estrada are already talking about doing another Ride to End Childhood Hunger next year.
“It was an idea kind of born at the last minute that has developed into something good,” said Shell, “It’s like a seed dropped in the ground by accident and now we have a tremendous tree growing there.”