Retired police officer John Malek saw the impact of crime and trauma on children firsthand during his 24 years with the West Milwaukee Police Department.
As a member of the Harley Owner's Group (HOG), a community marketing club operated by Harley-Davidson for Harley enthusiasts, he new HOG could make a difference.
On Saturday, members of HOG's Milwaukee Chapter, which is based at the House of Harley-Davidson stopped by the Greenfield Law Enforcement Center and Fire Station 1 to donate stuffed animals for traumatized children.
"Generally, for domestic violence situations, accidents, anywhere where the kids are upset, we always tried to calm them down and give them small stuffed animals," Malek recollected from his time with West Milwaukee. "We originally got the idea from Mothers Against Drunk Driving."
Knowing the value the small tokens of kindness carried for both emergency responders and victims, Malek, the Milwaukee HOG chapter's head road captain, led the effort.
Milwaukee chapter members purchased approximately 250-300 new stuffed animals (a minimum of five per participating member) and put them into individual plastic bags to keep them clean. The chapter provided enough stuffed animals to local police and fire departments so that each patrol and detective vehicle or emergency response vehicle will be equipped with at least one, allowing officers and detectives to give them to children in a time of need.
"One of the first things I learned about biker groups when I joined them, if it has to deal with kids, we're there to help," Malek said. "It doesn't matter who, what, when, where or why."
Approximately 60 members on 45 motorcycles made the 2 1/2-hour ride that included stops at police stations in Greendale, Hales Corners, West Allis and West Milwaukee.
"I'm sure everyone enjoyed it. I know I enjoyed the ride," said retired Greenfield police officer Charlie Salbashian and HOG member. "Anything that you can do to make the kids at ease when things are going on in their lives is a good thing.
"Some of our members are retired cops. We know what it's like. It's nice to be able to do something (for victims) when you're on a call, when there's been an accident or family trouble. It's nice to be able to give them something."
The Greenfield Police Department certainly appreciated the gesture.
"This was a great effort by the HOG members” Greenfield Police Interim Chief Brad Wentlandt said. "Having a stuffed animal available to give to a traumatized child can really make a difference."
HOG members participate in a number of charitable rides throughout the year. Members pay donation fees to ride for a specific cause, and the money donated goes to the charities selected by the chapter's board.