By Frederick Melo | firstname.lastname@example.org | Pioneer Press
Clad in blue jeans and black leather, dozens of motorcycle riders rolled into the West Metro Fire Station in New Hope with masks and handkerchiefs draped across their faces and a singular mission in mind.
Every Monday and Wednesday for the past month, that mission has been meatloaf.
The riders, most of them current or retired firefighters, are best known to each other by names like “Scenic” and “Flash.” On their black leather vests, they carried the proud crest of the Red Knights Motorcycle Club Minnesota Chapter 4.
And in the two jeeps that tailed their Harleys across the metro on Monday night, they carried freshly-cooked meatloaf. Bags of it.
The goal? To deliver prepared meals and groceries to homeless young people, mostly in their early 20s, living at motels with through the assistance of vouchers provided by the Greater Twin Cities YMCA.
“It’s amazing. It’s so rewarding,” said Nick “Scenic” Vogel of Lino Lakes, before explaining to some 30 riders that half the group would head to delivery destinations in North Minneapolis, Bloomington, Burnsville, Eagan and St. Paul and the other half would head to the western suburbs.
“We get this size of people coming every week because everyone just loves doing it,” Vogel said.
And the meatloaf? “Oh, it’s good!” said 23-year-old Robert Tucker, a former factory worker who recently transitioned from a Minneapolis shelter to a job corps program and now to a Bloomington motel with the help of the YMCA. “I like the meatloaf.”
Michael Roper, 24, and fiancee Valerie McKenzie, 24, said the Red Knights have been a highlight of their three weeks at the motel. “They’ve been really great, really respectful,” Roper said.
And the food? “It’s great, actually,” he said.
Meatloaf missions were never on the radar in days past, but times have suddenly changed. The Red Knights used to get together regularly for a long weeknight ride and then hit up a restaurant for a group meal.
With sit-down dining closed as a result of the pandemic and the governor’s stay-at-home orders, they decided to shift gears at the end of March and deliver a few home-cooked meals instead. A former YMCA worker who knows the group well recruited friends and neighbors to prepare meatloaf.
The idea spiraled into twice-a-week deliveries to young people staying in motels across the east and west metro.
“It blossomed into this,” said Gary Gustner, sitting astride his gray 2020 Harley Davidson CVO. Next to him, his wife Lisa Robinson Gustner — a YMCA youth worker — rode a 2019 Harley Street Glide, her fourth motorcycle to date.
The husband-and-wife riders had once both been firefighters together in Golden Valley before seeking new callings. Robinson Gustner, who helps young people transition from shelters and get situated in motels or elsewhere, includes masks and written information on social distancing and self-care during the pandemic in each delivery bag.
“Even when it’s really cold and nasty, these guys have been coming out and doing it,” said Red Knights Chapter 8 President Joel Nelson, an Assistant Fire Chief with the West Metro Fire Rescue Department. “We’ve had more members than we needed, every single time.”
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