Hot rodders steer Christmas cheer to food bank

December 14, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Kim Ortego, assistant to the director at the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, holds up Saucer Scramble and shows the donated toys that filled an entire truck. Contributed

If the holidays are all about community spirit, then the Sunset Highway Cruisers have earned an A-plus in spreading holiday cheer. For the 10th consecutive year, the cruisers have pulled off a successful toy drive, collecting at least $6,000 worth of toys, cash and checks for the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank.

Sunset Highway Cruisers President Marv Nielsen spearheaded the event, and thanked the approximate 250 drivers who had driven near and far, checks and toys in tow, for the Jingle Bell Cruz car show Dec. 5.

An Issaquah resident since 1977, Nielsen’s aqua 1937 Ford Coupe may be a familiar site to many, especially if they frequent car shows at the Triple XXX Rootbeer Drive-in. He has coordinated shows at the Triple XXX for 15 years, and might as well have engine oil running through his veins.

“I’ve always grown up interested in cars,” Nielsen said. “I had a model A at age 15, and I had a lifelong fascination of cars and how to improve them.”

Usually, the cruisers donate the proceeds from their shows to Issaquah’s Life Enrichment Options, better known as LEO, which helps Nielsen’s developmentally disabled daughter in her day-to-day life. When the cruisers agreed to host a toy drive, they decided to stay local and donate to the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank.

“Every year it’s gotten bigger and better and better,” Nielsen said. “This year was astronomical. We had 160 cars and hot rods at the Triple XXX.”

Sunset Highway Cruiser Joe Forkner, of Issaquah, volunteered at the car show, helping transport the presents to the food bank. The toys ranged from the traditional yellow-haired dolls to rocking horses that sing. Santa and Mrs. Claus also arrived for a photo op with the crowd.

“It was the biggest turnout I had ever seen,” Forkner said, attributing the cold but clear day to their success.

This year, car clubs from across the area drove their souped up vehicles and hot rods. The Northwest Classic Chevy Club donated more than $500 worth of toys and one anonymous individual gave goods worth $600.

The car enthusiasts like cars so much, they gifted quite a few — miniature ones, at least.

“We had a lot of Matchbox toys,” Nielsen said. “I brought some Hot Wheels.”

One little boy at the car show wanted to help, and donated his allowance of $2 to the toy drive. Nielsen promised the boy he would buy him dinner at the Triple XXX next time they met.

He and his network of classic car devotees have a soft spot for helping children in need have a holiday season filled with laughter and a sense of belonging to the community.

“You see them little guys with their noses pressed up against the glass that aren’t going to have any Christmas and it’s a real heart tugger,” Nielsen said. “We know that we’re making a Christmas for them they would normally not have.”

To donate a gift, or inquire about how to receive one, call the food bank at 392-4123 before Dec. 22.

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