19800 Tamiami Trail East, Naples, FL
Carmen and Barb Dasti rallied fellow motorcyclists to help a friend in need.
Chromed and leathered, motorcycles of all makes and models crowded the parking lot outside the Iron Rhino Saloon last Sunday. They were all there for the Helping Hand Motorcycle Run to lend a financial hand to fellow Marco Rider and friend, H.D. Melton.
Late last year, Melton was diagnosed with Takayasu’s Arteritis, a rare disease that damages the arteries and breaks down the immune system. Melton has been unable to work and, with mounting expenses, his friends knew he needed help.
“He’s one of our own,” said Carmen, “and we always try to take care of our own people.”
Carmen, who’s been riding for 30 years, is leader of the Marco Riders, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who get together to ride and have fun, but also raise money for charities. So, the Dasti’s put their heads together and came up with a plan to help their friend.
“Motorcycle people are the biggest fund-raisers,” said Carmen. “They’re very generous.”
They decided on a “charity run” with an entry fee to ride, and the money would go directly to Melton. Carmen, along with members of the Marco Riders, rode all over town, distributing over 400 flyers to promote the event.
The ride began with breakfast at the Iron Rhino Saloon, with stops at Junkanoo’s in Fort Myers Beach, the Naples Harley dealership and back to Marco Island.
After a stop at Porky’s Restaurant, the bikes, nearly 60 in all, ended the run back at the Iron Rhino for afternoon entertainment. Merchandise gift certificates were donated from local businesses for meals and clothing, even a round of golf, were auctioned off.
Gary Viggiano, owner of the Iron Rhino, donated breakfast for the riders, and his staff helped serve.
“Carmen and the Marco Riders support me, and I wanted to do something to help,” he said. Viggiano, originally from Long Island, N.Y., has toured all parts of the country on his Harley. He smiles and points to a Heritage Softtail. “It’s the one outside with all the rhinos on it.”
“The Iron Rhino is more of a philosophy,” he said. He wanted to name his restaurant something with a biker theme, but also make it personally meaningful. After losing his first wife, he had adopted the nature of the rhino as a way to signify his need to charge ahead.
“It’s like my Zen animal,” he said. The iron represents motorcycles, so he thought it would be the perfect name for his business. In the past year he’s volunteered the use of his restaurant for several other charitable events and wanted to step up this time, too.
“Bikers raise more money for more causes than any other organization,” said Viggiano. “I’m glad I can help.”
H.D. Melton and his wife, Donna, were on hand to eat breakfast with the group and see them off. A two-year member of the Marco Riders, Melton was overwhelmed by his friends’ generosity. Since November, he’s had six surgeries and spent two months in the hospital, and he said the entire organization of the Marco Riders, along with Viggiano at the Iron Rhino, have been caring and supportive.
“They’ve come by and brought food,” he said, “even visited me in the hospital. Carmen and Barb have a big heart — they’re wonderful people. I couldn’t ask for better friends.”
Steve “Stef” Stefanides has been a member of the Marco Riders for five years and points out the men and women who ride bikes come from a diverse background.
“It’s an interesting cross-cut of the community — professionals and retirees all looking for something to do.” He praises his fellow riders for stepping up when they hear of someone in need. “Carmen and Barb represent all that is wonderful about our fraternity of motorcycle enthusiasts here on Marco.”
Behind the scenes, the Dastis worked tirelessly, printing and distributing flyers, planning the route and the stops along the way and organizing the entire event.
“I’d like to thank all of the business people on and off the island who helped make this event a success with their donations,” said Carmen. “Also, to Marilyn and Dan Honahan, Gary and Mary Jarstad, Ron and Nancy Hobson, Jerry and Fran Galu who solicited the donations. Ernie Borden from Autocraft for his auctioning skills. Jimmy Downing from Zap Marine. Without these people, the event could not be a success.”
Carmen and Barb spent many hours of volunteer work simply to help a good friend. They’re grateful to all the riders who lent a hand and showed up to support H.D. Melton, but they’re not surprised.
“That’s what motorcycle people are all about,” said Carmen Dasti.