An estimated 2,000 bikers slammed the kickstands up about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, signaling the start of the 2014 Ride to Fight Hunger at Lido Beach Park.
The annual charity event, started 12 years ago by rocker Dee Snider of Twisted Sister fame, drew hundreds more motorcycle enthusiasts than last year's ride, according to Paul Pachter, chief executive of Long Island Cares Inc., a Hauppauge-based nonprofit established in 1980 by singer Harry Chapin.
Carole Kaye, 53, a social worker from Levittown, was readying to hop on a 2006 Harley-Davidson Softail with her boyfriend, Ken Paras, 57, an oil truck driver. It was the couple's first time at the annual event.
"I see a lot of people who complain that their food stamps have gotten cut and how hard it is for them to make ends meet," Kaye said. "There are a lot of people living in shelters who need the help. It's a beautiful day and a great cause and that's why we're here."
The 2013 event included about 1,500 people and raised $75,000, said Pachter, who expected Sunday's event to raise as much as $100,000, which could purchase 140,000 meals for needy Long Islanders. The 45-mile ride, led by a state trooper escort, marked Long Island Cares' largest fundraiser this year.
The first 10 years, proceeds from the rides went to the March of Dimes, a national nonprofit that helps to improve the health of mothers and their babies, Pachter said.
But superstorm Sandy in October 2012 shifted Snider's focus.
The storm "really gave me awareness that there was work to be done on Long Island," Snider said. "Then I discovered more than 10 percent of Long Islanders need help putting food on the table . . . [it] was an eye-opening thing for me and it changed the whole complexion of the ride. It became much more personal for all the riders, who are doing something for Long Islanders."
Riders signed up until the last minute, paying $30 per bike and an additional $15 for a passenger. Advance tickets were discounted $5 for each.
Snider, a 1973 graduate of Baldwin High School, led the pack out of the parking lot to ride on toward the water tower at Robert Moses State Park before the group headed back.
John Brown, 64, of Holtsville, president of Iron Workers Local 55 union, said he's been riding motorcycles his "whole life," and on Sunday had his black 2012 Ultra Limited Harley-Davidson. He brought along about a dozen of his fellow union and bike club members who hail from across Long Island, New York City, Westchester and New Jersey and donated money and canned goods.
"We've all got a lot of miles under us," Brown said. "But this is what our brotherhood, our sisterhood is all about. We're all here to have a good time and contribute to a good cause."
Alejandra Linares, 34, a physical therapist from Long Beach, came for the second time with her husband, Rolando Prieto, 36, who works in digital marketing, and her father, Guillermo Linares, 57, an MTA worker.
She said she became overwhelmed and cried the first time she came to the event a few years ago.
"I just saw all these people just riding, people on the side of the road get out of their cars and watch, little kids smiling," she said. "We all just love to ride. You can't even explain the feeling. It's so great to see all these people here making a difference while doing something they love."
Prieto, who was readying his black 2013 Honda Fury, said he enjoys the inclusivity of the ride.
"You always hear in the news of racial tension everywhere, but in this type of event it doesn't matter if you're black, white, green or yellow. It doesn't matter. We come united to support an important cause and we do it together. It's great."
Although the need for food and household supplies was significantly greater immediately after Sandy, more than 300,000 families on the Island are still affected by food insecurity, Pachter said.
The nonprofit distributes more than 8 million pounds of food annually, feeds roughly 400 homeless people at its mobile units each month and conducts 75 to 85 monthly visits to the homebound elderly, Pachter said. The charity helps families of all ages, including about 150 veterans.
"Because of the economy being so bad in recent years, people visit the food banks and pantries so frequently, it's almost as if they're going to the supermarket," Pachter said. "It's a sad situation."
Snider, who lauded his fellow bikers for their "generosity," said he hopes the event will continue to raise awareness of hunger on Long Island long after the ride is over.
"I didn't really know about LI Cares until two years ago, and it's been around for 30 years," Snider said. "So there's still awareness to be raised and these kind of events get that awareness and spread that awareness."