by Mary Rupert
The Kindest Kansas Citian could be a motorcyclist living in Kansas City, Kan.
Michael Bergen was named a recipient of the Maxey Dupree Humanitarian Award to be presented during the annual Kindest Kansas Citian Awards ceremony sponsored by Synergy Services. Bergen was one of the top three of the 20 Kindest Kansas Citiians, recently selected from nearly 5,500 nominees, according to Synergy Services.
Bergen, for many years, has been holding fundraisers and motorcycle runs that collect toys for needy children.
He founded an organization called Hands to Heart 21 years ago, and also founded Michael Bergen’s Night Train Run 18 years ago, with motorcycle runs in the spring and fall. “May 16 will be my 35th run,” Bergen said.
“It’s been very rewarding, very stressful,” Bergen said about his years of helping others. “The reward is unbelievable.”
The first time Bergen raised funds and collected toys for kids, he dropped off toys to 41 children in the Quindaro area. Last December, he and his helpers handed out more than 5,800 toys all over the region, including Wyandotte County, and as far away as Nebraska and Topeka, he said.
He said he’s been fortunate that his company, Exide Technologies, lets him take off work to drop off toys.
The winning nomination
Bergen was nominated for the Kindest Kansas Citian award by Caysi Campbell, a seventh-grader at Pleasant Ridge Middle School in Overland Park, Kan.
Campbell wrote in her nominating essay, “Michael is proof that it just takes a goal and a dream to inspire children and adults. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you wear if you have goodness in your heart, you can make a difference in this world to many people.”
The Kindest Kansas Citian Awards Dinner will be May 8 at The View at Briarcliff in Kansas City, Mo., and it will raise funds for the Stop Violence program that prevents bullying. There are several people who will be honored at the dinner.
How did he become inspired to help people?
Bergen said he grew up in “kind of a poor way” in Stanley, Kan.
“I never had a father and I had a great mother,” he said. “She did everything she could to take care of me and two brothers. We had to make do with everything we could.”
He’s been living in Wyandotte County since he was 17 years old.
Twenty-one years ago, Bergen said he heard a report on the radio that the City Union Mission had been broken into and all the toys were stolen.
At his work, he walked around and collected $375 in 20 to 30 minutes and donated it to the mission.
“That felt pretty good,” he said. “I thought that was pretty neat, people at work wanted to help out.”
The following year, he did the same thing. He bought toys, trying to find a place to donate them, and discovered a Head Start location in Quindaro.
“The lady said, nobody brings things down there, and she started crying on the phone,” he said.
So, Bergen dressed up as Santa Claus that first year. He was shocked and upset when “kids were not asking for toys, they were asking for mommies and daddies.”
After that, he decided his days of dressing up as Santa Claus were over. From then on, he would dress as a biker, wearing his Billy Jack hat, and hand out toys to kids.
“That’s how it’s been for the next 20 years,” Bergen said.
The Night Train Run
As he began realizing how many places there were with kids who were needy, Bergen started doing motorcycle runs. There were not enough toys to meet the need, so he founded the Michael Bergen Night Train Run.
The next run, his 35th, will be May 16, starting in Louisburg, Kan. There is no entry fee in the usual monetary sense – just a request to bring as many toys as you can. Some bikers also donate cash to the event.
He advises people to go out and buy toys for the event.
“It’s really fun that way, you feel really good about it. It’s more fun buying toys than dropping off cash,” he said.
His toy distributions grew from a couple hundred, to a thousand and 2,000, and are now at 5,800, he said.
“I get people who say it’s a great thing you do, and you need to be rewarded,” he said. “In return, I tell them I’ve already been rewarded. Without the people showing up at rides and supporting us, I would not get the smiles, the hugs from the kids, not to see any of that,” he said. “I’m just a hand in it and all the people are the hearts. I couldn’t do it without all the brothers and sisters helping.”
Through the years, Bergen has found Kansas City to be full of generous and giving people.
“I’ve never seen a town that has more charity than this town,” he said. “People would give the shirt off their back.”
A simple toy goes a long way
Bergen has brought toys to fire victims, tragic accident victims and tornado victims.
“Can you imagine what a little toy or teddy bear to curl up with would do for a kid who just lost everything?” Bergen asked. It gives kids something to keep occupied with while their parents decide what to do with their life, he said.
“A simple toy goes a long way,” he said. “It’s all a big circle, it all comes back.”
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