The Nite Riders Van Club
By Jeffrey Zanker, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Giving back has been central to the Nite Riders Van Club for the last 34 years. The club held their annual Back-to-School Family Bash last Sunday afternoon at Dell Holmes Park.
Donnie “Ironman” Williams, serving as the club’s president for 30 years, described the Nite Riders as a “community-minded” organization.
“We help out the kids and the elderly, look for no notoriety and work from the heart,” Williams said.
Sunday’s event included activities provided by TASCO (Teen, Arts, Sports, and Cultural Opportunities) such as bounce houses and live music. Other activities included arts and crafts and socializing with K-9 police officers and firefighters. A barbeque lunch was provided, and approximately 400 backpacks stuffed with school supplies were distributed.
Williams said for 28 years the club has provided “as many supplies and necessities” for the young folks.
“We want to let kids see the importance of giving and volunteering … as a gateway to better the lives of children.”
The Nite Riders started back in 1984 when Williams and 10 others decided to form a social club. Since some owned custom vans, they created a van club for getting together and traveling throughout the region.
“Custom vans were the thing back then,” Williams said.
Van ownership became the club’s membership requirement, which they would share each other’s vans for social occasions such as community events, picnics or trips to football games.
Even though the van trips were discontinued because of dwindling van clubs throughout the U.S., the Nite Riders boast 26 members strong and continue to focus on providing resources for the community. They have supported and contributed to many local organizations such as Johnnie Ruth Clarke Center, the NAACP, All Children’s Hospital and the Bill Edwards Christmas Gala.
Kashief Williams, 10, is handed the first backpack at the family bash by State Rep. Wengay Newton and Nite Riders president Donnie Williams.
Florida House Representative Wengay Newton was on hand to show his support.
“Events like this make huge differences,” Newton said, referring to the weeks before the school year starts when parents are trying to scrape together the required supplies to start the year off right.
Laminka Williams brought her son, Kashief, out to the park to burn off some energy while enjoying lunch and picking up a few needed supplies.
St. Pete native Andrew Williams said he was “quite surprised that the Nite Riders were still around since he hadn’t heard about the group in years. He actually graduated from Gibbs High in 1970 with a few of the members.
Attending the outing with his son Mikhale, a first-grader, Andrew Williams appreciates the generosity that the van club brings to the community.
“I know it was going to be a treat,” he said, noting that he and MiKhale had such a good time that it was difficult to leave.