Riding a motorcycle has always been a very self-serving pursuit for me. I got into the hobby to satisfy a personal interest and I continue to ride for my own sheer enjoyment. It somehow simultaneously invigorates and relaxes me. Saving time and reducing fuel consumption while having a convenient excuse to own chaps are merely byproducts.
I’m always impressed and somewhat humbled by people who proactively look for ways to help others or improve the world around them rather than just serving their own needs. Sure, if I’m at the liquor store and they ask if I want to donate to the children’s hospital, I’ll do it every time. But I don’t cross traffic or change my schedule to do so.
Joanne Morra is someone who goes completely out of her way to help. We’d met in passing at a motorcycle event and connected via social media but bonded over our common love of animals. Cats, in particular. I’ll periodically make donations to local shelters or the humane society, but simply don’t have the stomach to see animals suffering so that’s where my involvement stops. Morra puts that discomfort aside to rescue animals in the most vulnerable positions and dire situations to give them a better life. Looking for volunteers to temporary foster kittens as shelters were full and winter approached, I offered to take one in. Within the first 30 seconds of arriving, I knew I couldn’t give him up. Three years later Waylon the Outlaw Cat is still running the household. He lives a life that most royalty would find decadent thanks to her.
In addition to rescuing over 250 cats in her neighbourhood alone, she has worked with Habitat for Humanity on build projects in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and subsequently led teams to Costa Rica, Guatemala, Trinidad, El Salvador and Honduras.
Always passionate about motorcycles, Morra started riding three years ago. Feeling intimidated by the more male dominated groups, she joined The Litas. “It’s been invaluable in terms of learning how to ride as a group and how to become a better rider in general,” says Morra, “There are so many different types of women with different riding styles and tastes, there truly is a place for everyone and anyone.” She wanted to pay it forward by giving something back to the motorcycle community.
Ruminating on ways she could somehow incorporate motorcycles into a philanthropic undertaking, she serendipitously came across a Facebook post shared about Engines for Change (E4C). Founded by Kirsten Midura in NYC, E4C is an organization that aims to mobilize motorcyclists to make a positive difference in their community. Starting with a beach cleanup in September 2019, they’ve been hosting events and rides that provide social assistance and promote environmental benefits. Most recently, they’ve been helping deliver PPE to medical professionals in need. Providing training and support resources to empower those who wish to participate in their own way, Morra signed on as a regional representative to be an E4C ambassador in Toronto.
The plan is to host multiple campaigns a year that focus on various social and environmental issues, as well as any local events that regional reps want to plan in their own cities. Not surprisingly, Morra is leaning towards organizing an initiative that supports animal welfare, particularly feral cat rescue. She’s already recruited a few Toronto motorcyclists to adopt or foster cats from the system (including myself), so she knows there is interest. Rather than just doing a charity ride, she envisions projects where riders can actually get their hands dirty by building or fabricating.
So why motorcyclists? The purpose behind the organization is to tap into communities. The motorcycling community is diverse, and riders are passionate. Morra adds that, “Motorcyclists generally tend to be risk-takers; people who live outside the box and are not afraid to make some noise and stir the pot. I figured they could use some of that energy – their connections, their resources, talents and general chutzpah to effect change in their community. Social change is not for the weak of character.” They are also always looking for an excuse to ride. That being said, you don’t need a motorcycle to participate or offer assistance of any kind.
As with most things, the pandemic has thrown a wrench into event planning this year, but the first initiative is a food drive and fundraiser supporting the Daily Bread food bank. The idea is to raise funds and promote awareness through the month of April, with riders transporting as many food donations on their bike as they can on April 24th.
The top fundraising city will receive a bonus donation of $250 from Hightail Hair. Being follicly challenged myself, I wasn’t aware of the company but evidently, they create products that prevent tangles and helmet hair. I wish I had that problem.
Toronto is currently the only Canadian city taking part, but E4C welcomes other organizers to join this campaign, or approach them with ideas on how they can make an impact in their own neighbourhood. Helping others in a way that incorporates motorcycles definitely makes it seem like a fun way to do it.