Still heroes–couple’s legacy lives on

Bakersfield Toy Run continues to benefit Army programs.

Motorcycles and helping the needy were passions of Debbie and Jim Harmon, of Bakersfield, Calif., who spent half of their lives spearheading efforts to help those in need, including founding the Bakersfield Toy Run and Food Drive—one of the largest of its kind in California—to benefit the Bakersfield Citadel Corps’ Christmas programs.

For the first time in 26 years, the Harmons were not a part of this yearly event. The couple was killed in a motorcycle accident just before Christmas when an oncoming car came into their lane and hit them head-on.

It is said that people can measure their achievement in a project by its continued success even in their absence. Friends of Debbie and Jim are resolute in continuing the Harmon’s work. Fellow bikers and community members stepped up to acquire the necessary permits and ensure the show would go on.

“We were in shock to lose both of them. But we decided that this year we would do it in memory of Jim and Debbie,” Sherry Aal, acting president, said.

The event originally began with 50 bikes and grew to nearly 4,000, plus 300 car clubs. The clubs make the run with thousands of donated toys, which are then given to The Salvation Army for distribution.

Along the route, families line the streets, cheering the riders on.

“Our kids sit out every year. It’s a tradition. It’s good for them to watch other people give to the less fortunate,” Sonnette Russell, local resident, said.

A few days before the Harmons were killed they were at the corps for a planning meeting. Jim’s comment to Corps Officer Major Carole Abella was: “We do it for the Lord.”

The 2009 run resulted in 13,000 in attendance and donations of 1,980 toys, 2,869 cans of food, and $10,713.58 cash.

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