LUMBERTON — While feeding her daughter french fries at the Village Station restaurant, Janet Woodell is surrounded by a group of women motorcyclists known as the Spirit Riders. She, along with the rest of the women, have come together to talk about what drives them.
“My mom was a single parent with four kids, and I can tell you that it was hard on her,” Woodell said. “I could remember at school, the American Indian teachers that were there and everything they did for me. I remember shoes being bought for me; I remember if I was sick and couldn’t get to the doctor, they would come and pick me up.”
As Woodell turns her attention to her young daughter who is restlessly kicking her dangling feet in the chair, Lucinda Callahan adds that some of the women in the group are single mothers, experiencing the same hardships that Woodell describes.
Callahan and Woodell are the president and vice president of the Spirit Riders — a group of 19 women who combine their passion for revving their motorcycle engines with the desire for giving back.
Summing it up matter-of-factly, Callahan said “We ride bikes and we’re emotional.”
This year, the self-described sensitive cyclists, who participate in charity runs, decided they wanted to organize one of their own.
During their monthly meeting, the group, which includes Ruby Oxendine, a guidance counselor at Union Elementary School, decided to hold a bike run to benefit the students at that school who are ill-equipped for the new year. The goal is to raise $5,000 for Union Elementary School students who need help.
“Over 90 percent eat free or reduced lunch,” Oxendine said of the school’s students. “It’s a poor community in a rural area. There is a great need all over the county, and a great need here as well…. . Past local churches have been helping us out, as well as the PTA organization. We even have to buy children clothes at certain times — sometimes their shoes are falling apart.”
The ticket to ride in the Sunday event is $10 for a single rider or $15 for a couple, and all the proceeds go toward helping buy school supplies and necessities for the students. Registration will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. and the riders will leave at 2:30 p.m. from the C&P Mini Mart in Pembroke.
“The principal and PTA department told us that the children that go to school sometimes don’t have jackets in the winter time,” Callahan said, “and that’s something that the school will pull together out of their pockets and actually try to help the kids with.”
In 2010, 16.4 million, or approximately 22 percent, of children in the United States lived in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In addition to not having money for proper supplies to supplement school lessons, if children have limited access to food, it can slow their development and academic performance. Research indicates that children who are hungry during school struggle in the classroom.
In addition to providing school supplies, the Spirit Riders hope their efforts will also boost the students’ morale.
“It makes you feel loved when someone reaches out like that,” said Woodell, her sentence interrupted by stifled emotion. “I know my mom loved me though she couldn’t always provide for us. And as a child growing up in household like that, when you go to school, you try to be normal, but it’s hard. So when someone helps out like that, it helps out a lot. It does a lot for your self-esteem.”
Woodell, who is a teacher at Lumberton High School, is joined by other members revving to help, including preacher’s wives, secretaries, hair dressers and nursing assistants.
The women say the group provides camaraderie, and that in their combined effort to help others, they also help each other.
Chenoa Deese, whose husband died in a motorcycle accident, said the women helped her conquer her fear of getting back on the bike.
“Still today, when I climb on the bike, I say a little prayer. I like the way I feel like I’m a part of nature — it’s as much as you can be without being surrounded by a car,” she said.
Fellow member, Rose Lowery calls it a “spiritual uplift.” She said, “It’s not just the joy of riding a bike, it’s the fellowship you have with all these people.”
With an annual charge of $25, membership to the Spirit Riders isn’t free, but the women say it pays.
“When bikers come together, we are some giving folks,” Callahan said. “The folks really turn out. And any time a ride is done, there is a need. We’re a poor county, but we are a giving county.”