'Dream ride' to help sick kids ends in Portsmouth

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PORTSMOUTH — Ask Tony Santos if he ever gets any attitude from folks who don't like the sound of his motorcycle coming through their neighborhood and he nods his head.

"All the time," said Mr. Santos, 58. "All the time."

It was a different story Sunday afternoon, however, when he and about 500 other riders were greeted with open arms as they rumbled north down Park Avenue to their final destination: Scampi restaurant.

The restaurant was the last stop of the 21st annual Motorcycle Mystery Ride to benefit The imPossible Dream Foundation for chronically ill children. The police-escorted ride started at the East Warren Rod & Gun Club in Warren and ended in Island Park.

Money was raised through the fees generated from participants: $25 for drivers and $20 for passengers.

All proceeds went directly to the Warwick-based imPossible Dream, a nonprofit started in 1982 that grants "dreams" to children who are limited by a physical or emotional challenge. Mr. Santos, who's been riding since he was 17, was acquainted with the late founder of organization, John Florio.

“I knew John years ago," said Mr. Santos, one of 40-plus members of East Providence Elks Riders Lodge #2337, which organized the ride. "I do carpentry for a living and I started working (at the imPossible Dream). I just saw the pictures on the wall, and that’s how we all started.”

The ride has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the imPossible Dream over the years. “In our 18th year of doing this, we went over the $100,000 mark," said Mr. Santos.

Tammie Luther of Warren was tapped to be event coordinator by Mr. Santos a few years ago, although she gives her friend most of the credit. “He does it all. I mail things out, I call people — things like that. It runs itself because of him," she said.

About five years ago, Ms. Luther went to her first ride in Bristol and was amazed by how much money was raised. “There were probably around 50 bikes in that one. I think we made $8,000 to $10,000 that one afternoon. I was astonished," she said.

More riders join every year; Mr. Santos estimated that Sunday's ride raised close to $15,000.

Follow the leader

The event is called a "mystery ride" because, theoretically, participants aren't supposed to know exactly where the leaders — Mr. Santos is "road captain" — are taking them.

“Years ago it was a true mystery ride," Mr. Santos said. "People signed up, and they just followed us and they didn’t know where they were going. Now we advertised that we were coming back here (to Scampi)."

Although the end point was known to all, the middle of the ride was still a secret to the six motorcycle clubs taking part. After starting in Warren, riders followed the back roads of Swansea, Seekonk, Rehoboth and some of Dighton, Mass. before heading back to Warren and Bristol and into Portsmouth.

"It was a nice ride," said Mr. Santos, adding that bikers were grateful for the police escort as well for the motorists who pulled over to let them pass safely. “I think it was 45, 46 miles. We didn’t put our feet down once. The police help out immensely.

Lobster salad for 600-plus

Participants were also thankful for the free spread of food that greeted them at Scampi, which has hosted riders for the past two years. At tables set up outside, riders chowed down on lobster salad rolls, chicken wings, steak tips, watermelon salad and more. There was also music, a 50/50 raffle and door prizes.

"Scampi sponsors all the food and everybody who’s here is a volunteer; nobody gets paid," said Michelle Arsenault, the restaurant's manager. "Everybody just comes together. It’s an amazing event.”

It's not the first time that Scampi owner Michael Edwards has invited a group in for a free meal. The restaurant has hosted them for cheerleaders at the high school, members of Boys Town, local participants in Infinity Volunteers — a nonprofit that provides students with the opportunity to engage in humanitarian service in other countries — and other groups.

A cancer fund-raiser is scheduled for Sept. 15, and Mr. Edwards also wants to host a free lunch for the Portsmouth Little League 9-10 All Stars, which recently won the state championship.

"This is what we do," said Ms. Arsenault.

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