• Dave and Sarah Thomas of Murphy made these shirts just for the Toys for Tots Poker Run that left Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel on Saturday morning. Photos by Ben Katz
    Dave and Sarah Thomas of Murphy made these shirts just for the Toys for Tots Poker Run that left Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel on Saturday morning. Photos by Ben Katz
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SCOUTING AROUND: Motorcyclists, casino celebrate Christmas in July

    Murphy – Sarah Thomas was in the Christmas spirit Saturday morning. She was wearing a giddy smile, a red and leopard print Santa hat, and a “Sons of Santa” T-shirt that she and her husband, Dave, made specifically for the day.
    They were among the 52 riders on 40 motorcycles gathered at Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel for the Christmas in July Poker Run to benefit Toys for Tots. The event raised about $5,500 for the kids, not including additional T-shirt sales.
    Thomas, who moved to Murphy last year, said they were at the event for three reasons – the Marines, the opportunity to ride with others and to support Toys for Tots.
    “It’s so important they have at least a toy to unwrap on Christmas,” Thomas said.
    Mike Tryzbiak of Blairsville, Ga., had done other benefit rides, but this was his first for Toys for Tots.
    “Any excuse to ride a bike is a good excuse,” he said.
    Harrah’s Valley River choose to do Christmas in July so employees could better focus on helping the organization, said Lori Baker, the casino’s community relations coordinator. In addition to the Toy Run, employees had a toy drive from June 1 to July 13, in which four huge bags toys were collected.
    “This is our big push for Toys for Tots,” Baker said.
    Michael Williams, a security officer for the casino, was happy to help. He recently moved to the area from Florida, where he was active with Toys for Tots.
    The Marine Corps veteran said he is president of the Shelter Foundation, which helps active duty, veterans, their families and their communities. He knows how one toy can brighten a child’s day.
    “I grew up poor,” Williams said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to see this. The motorcycle community has always been great about supporting Toys for Tots, but it’s also great that Harrah’s offered the space for this.”
    Jim Jones, who organized the event for Toys for Tots, agreed.
    “(Toys for Tots) would really like to express our thanks for the generosity of the bikers,” he said. “I think they all had fun, and their support was really fantastic.”
    Having this event in July is beneficial to the organization. Don Slifer, local coordinator for Toys for Tots, said the core volunteers start meeting in September, but the bulk of the campaign for donations runs from November through the first half of December.
    “It’s very nice to get that additional fundraising in before we start the campaign,” Slifer said.
    The casino did the bulk of the work for the event.
    “This ride, along with the other things that they do or our community, speaks so highly for the casino’s commitment to help,” Jones said.
    “It’s very helpful to have their support,” Slifer said.
    This is the second year Harrah’s Cherokee has held a Toy Run for Toys For Tots, but the first year the Valley River location hosted on its own. As a result, all proceeds will benefit just Cherokee County’s Toys For Tots program this year.
    After lining up for the ride, pastor Chris West of Shepherd of the Mountains church blessed the bikes. Marine Corps League Detachment 1011 saluted as the bikes pulled out of the parking lot begin their trip through the tri-state area.
    Riders traveled from the casino on U.S. 74 to N.C. 294 and into Tennessee. Then they took N.C. 68 to Copperhill, Tenn., where they stopped at Buck Bald Brewing. The trip continued down Georgia 5 into Blue Ridge, where they stopped again at Grumpy Old Men Brewing.
    They concluded their journey at Copperhead Lodge in Blairsville, where the raffle prizes and 50/50 prizes were announced.

Regional hospital will feature local artwork
    Asheville – Mission Hospital will soon have the art of local artists to help create a calming experience for patients and visitors.     The work of Tim Ford as well as Debra and David Vanderlaan were selected during a search for local artists to fill the hospital’s new 12-story tower with art from western North Carolina.
    Ford was commissioned to create a 40-by-60 inches oil painting. His piece will be hung in one of the main public corridors, hospital officials told him.
    “It is an honor to be selected to paint an original oil painting for the hospital,” he said.
    Ford said it is the largest painting he has ever done. His deadline is the first week of August.
    Several months after applying for the project, the Vanderlaans got a phone call from the hospital inquiring about their art. After searching the couples’ online gallery, the hospital selected 12 pieces that will be going on the hospital’s water-themed floor.
    This is not the first time the Vanderlaans’ work was selected to decorate a hospital. Their images also hang in the lobby of a hospital in Jupiter, Fla.
    “It is always exciting to see your art hanging in someone’s home, office or business as it validates what you are doing, and you know that folks actually love your art enough to purchase it,” Debra Vanderlaan said.
    Last summer, the hospital started looking for artists in western North Carolina counties to apply for the project. The hospital requested samples of art that reflected the nature or cultural diversity of the area and were suitable for a healing environment. The tower is expected to open by early October.
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.

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