A steady stream of people filed into the Backstreet BBQ & Tap Room on Dieskau Street this afternoon. Most were wearing black leather jackets marked with the colors of local motorcycle clubs. All were carrying toys — stuffed animals, Lego building sets, toy trucks, soccer balls and board games. The event was a Christmas party to launch Backstreet’s 14-day toy collection campaign. The BBQ, a favorite biker bar in Lake George, is an official drop-off site for the Tri-County Marines Toys for Girls and Boys program, and BBQ owner Bob Merchant is determined to fill his establishment with toys before the December 15 deadline.
Within a half-hour, the toy box was overflowing, and people began to stack toys on the floor and nearby tables. “Motorcycle people are really good givers,” says Merchant. Choppy Greene, President of the Kingsbury-based club True Order MC, explains it in simple terms, “We like to help our community as much as we can.”
One True Order member said the Toys for Girls and Boys program held personal meaning for him. His family went through hard times last year, and he worried his two children would go without at Christmas. “A local group came through with toys for my children,” he said. “It was very humbling.” Merchant says there are more than a dozen local bike clubs that support each other’s benefits, and holding benefits and fund-raising rides is a way of life for this crowd.
The toy program is an effort of the Marine Corps League Memorial Detachment No. 2. For more than a decade, the League had been participating in the National Toys for Tot program. Last year, they broke from the national program and renamed their toy drive Toys for Girls and Boys, a change that allows them to better serve their area, defined as Warren, Washington and Northern Saratoga Counties.
The week before Thanksgiving, families completed applications at the League’s Hudson Falls Office, giving information that included the age and gender of each child in need of a gift. The applications were processed, assigned a number and mailed back to applicants. On December 15, toys will be collected from drop locations and sorted into bags labeled with applicants’ numbers. Families will then return to the building with their applications to pick up their bags.
According to the Marine Corps League Sr. Vice Commandant Lynn Stanton, this year they need toys for approximately 700 children. The number of gifts per child depends on the success of the toy drive. Stanton notes that each year toys appropriate for children 10 to 12-years-old are in short supply. If necessary, they will go shopping to fill any shortages.
“Bob has been a great help with this,” says Stanton, referring to Bob Merchant. Last week, at the Lake George Lite Up The Village celebration, Stanton and Jr. Vice Commandant John Muhl presented Merchant with a plaque to recognize his service in helping with the toy drive.
Backstreet BBQ will be collecting toys through Friday, Dec. 15. Anyone who brings an unwrapped toy to the restaurant will be treated to a bowl of soup or some chicken wings. “You give, then we give,” says Merchant. Merchant expressed thanks to the Town and Village of Lake George for allowing him to announce the toy drive at the Lite Up The Village event. Backstreet BBQ & Taproom is in the historic Woodbine Hotel building, 75 Dieskau Street, Lake George. The bar opens at 2 p.m. daily.