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Bike Messengers Help Marines Round Up Toys for Tots in the Loop

By Paul Biasco | December 23, 2014 5:39am
 Kelsey Phillips, 24, a Downtown bike messenger, unpacks toys at the Shurpa headquarters of Toys for Tots.
Kelsey Phillips, 24, a Downtown bike messenger, unpacks toys at the Shurpa headquarters of Toys for Tots.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Chicago's bike messengers are pros at zipping through the Loop delivering documents and legal notes, but for the last week they have been helping a younger audience.

About two dozen messengers helped pick up more than 1,000 gifts from U.S. Marines Toys for Tots drop-off boxes across the city.

The couriers volunteered their time between shifts running documents in the Loop or food deliveries elsewhere.

"I feel like I never help anyone but lawyers signing documents, so I wanted to do something nice," said 24-year-old messenger Kelsey Phillips.

Paul Biasco says the city's messengers gathered to help the Marines and share "war stories" from the road:

 Shurpa's founder Ben Fornell (r.) and head of logistics, Jake Huizenga.
Shurpa's founder Ben Fornell (r.) and head of logistics, Jake Huizenga.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

A new Lincoln Park-based package delivery service called Shurpa that relies heavily on messengers helped organize the effort out of its headquarters at 2727 N. Halsted St.

The messengers were treated to Revolution Brewing Co. beers and pizza to warm up after dropping off their hauls at Shurpa.

"The messenger community is a really tight-knit community," said Ben Fornell, Shurpa's founder and CEO. "They love carrying cargo. They love carrying big loads, and if we can help some kids at the same time, all the better."

The messengers have picked up packages from about 40 drop-off locations, mainly in the Loop, River North and Lincoln Park areas Monday through Friday.

Sometimes a single box might contain 75 to 100 toys.

The Toys for Tots Foundation is run by the Marine Corps, which expects to collect 150,000 toys in Chicago alone this year.

The bike messengers have been especially helpful in the Loop, according to Marine Sgt. Clayton Ferguson.

"Driving a 14-foot U-Haul almost 10 feet wide and finding a place to park is not fun," Ferguson said. "The way they are able to get down here on bikes and are able to haul a whole box at a time, it's an incredible help for us."

A staff of about 20 Marines help run the Toys for Tots program in Cook County, and all of them must maintain their day-to-day military jobs as well.

Most days, Ferguson can only send out two U-Hauls, and without the help of the retired veterans, church groups and bike messengers, it would be impossible to collect all the toys.

"I don't think without them, we would have been able to pick up everything from Downtown," he said.

Those toys will be heading to 684 churches, YMCAs, youth centers, day care centers and community groups that requested gifts for kids who might not otherwise get toys.

One center applied for 11 toys, while another asked for thousands, according to Ferguson.

The Marines and their volunteers are sorting the 100,000-plus toys at a warehouse by age and gender.

"It's definitely a community effort," Ferguson said.

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