Written & Photographed by Diana Olmstead
The first Saturday in December has become a family tradition for thousands of local motorcycle riders! Why? Because it’s the Olympia Toy Run which benefits The Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy” Shop! This extraordinary charity ride began in 1977, with 27 men who loved riding motorcycles. These men saw that there were children in their own communities who were facing a very bleak, joyless Christmas. The thought of an innocent young child not having at least one gift to open from Santa on Christmas Day was more than they could bear; to them it simply wasn’t right. So they decided to start a charity toy run that would benefit The Salvation Army which helps local low income families.
Over the past 34 years The Olympia Toy Run has become known as “the granddaddy of them all”! It is one of the longest running charity motorcycle toy runs in the entire nation! Maintaining the integrity of the run is very important to my dear friend, Olympia Toy Run Coordinator, Joe “Santa” Sullivan, and the entire Olympia Toy Run Coalition. These men & women volunteer all of their time, year after year, to insure that the original 27’s mission of creating a Christmas charity event continues on.
This year’s 34th Annual Olympia Toy Run, once again set an all time attendance record! It’s estimated that 19,000 – 20,000 street legal bikes came together as one colossal pack of leather and chrome at the South Sound Center Sears Parking lot in Lacey, WA! It was an amazing, exciting, and flawlessly executed parking process thanks to members of the Olympia Toy Run Coalition and their volunteers.
As riders dismounted their bikes & took off their helmets, they met up with fellow friends, and then headed off to check out the dozen vendor booths looking to warm up with a hot beverage, get a bite to eat and do a little holiday shopping!
The holiday spirit was definitely in the air! Everywhere you looked riders were smiling, laughing, hugging and shaking hands. Many of the riders had their child, grandchild or a little buddy riding with them. There is no denying that this is a family event whether you’re a rider or a spectator!
After warming up with a hot cup of coffee, I headed over to check out the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team and the Seattle Cossacks perform their precision motorcycle maneuvers and outrageous stunts! The crowd which ranged in age from toddlers to a couple in their mid 80’s were all captivated by what they saw!
As I was snapping pictures, a familiar looking boy ran up to me and said, “Excuse me lady, I talked to you last year, do you remember me? I was with my brother and grandma.” I said, “Yes, I remember you! I’m glad to see you again this year! Are you having a good time?” The boy replied with a huge smile on his face, “Yes, this is the coolest day ever! I can’t believe how many motorcycles there are! My family brought a lot of toys for other kids to have. My brother and I picked out Hot Wheels and my little sisters picked out Barbie’s ‘cause they’re girls. My grandma and grandpa don’t ride a motorcycle anymore but they said that I can when I grow up! I saw a really cool red bike over there. I’m going to get one like that someday! And I’m going to ride with all of the presents on my own bike!” said, “That’ll be really cool!” He replied, “Yeah it will be. Well, I gotta go, I want to watch these guys ride upside down. (He was referring to the Cossacks). I couldn’t help but chuckle as this little boy ducked back into the crowd. I realized in that magical moment that we all had done something much bigger than making Christmas happen for thousands of children this year; we had also unknowingly set a positive example, and dare I say become role models to all of the youths that attend this Run! I can’t help but wonder if it weren’t for The Olympia Toy Run, would those kids ever understand or talk about the reality that many kids their own age are from family’s too broke to buy any Christmas gifts?
Before long it was time to head back to the bikes and saddle up, the official Olympia Toy Run parade was about to begin! It was truly a beautiful December day for Joe “Santa” Sullivan and his 9 year old passenger, Natasha Bunce to lead the parade! At 1pm Santa officially began the parade with a “round ‘em up” wave and the twist of his throttle!
Rumbling directly behind Santa were 18,000-19,000 biker elves bundled up in leathers and scarves riding every type of street legal motorcycle imaginable! Many of the bikes were decorated with Christmas garland, candy canes & bows! Their saddlebags or sissy bars were packed or strapped with all kinds of toys! Hundreds of spectators lined the parade route in lawn chairs, all snuggled up with heavy coats & blankets, waiving, smiling and holding signs that read, “We Love Bikers”, “Merry Christmas!” and “Thank you!”
This year the Salvation Army said requests for holiday assistance were at an all time high and despite this bad economy we raised an estimated $100,000 in toy & cash donations! And we did it efficiently, within a matter of hours!
Check out the Olympia Toy Run website www.olytoyrun.com periodically for updates, final donation numbers as well as photos of this years run. Also be sure to check out “The Olympia Toy Run” Facebook page too!
Joe “Santa” Sullivan was extremely pleased with the huge amount of community support for this year’s Olympia Toy Run. “Everyone worked together to make it another fantastic year! Special thanks go out to the Olympia PD, Lacey PD, WSP, Washington State General Administration, WSDOT and the local merchants! We appreciate your support of the 34th Annual Olympia Toy Run and the Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy” Shop!”
Joe Sullivan & the entire Coalition send a heartfelt “Thank you! We couldn’t have done it without all of our 2011 Olympia Toy Run Sponsors: 96.9 FM The Sound, 1240 AM KGY, Northwest H-D, Eagle Leather, Northwest Guide Baits, Bill Funk/Allstate Insurance, D&F Custom Leathers and Quick Throttle Magazine!
We’d also like to thank every rider who brought a toy or made a $15 donation! Thank you for remembering that The Olympia Toy Run is a charity event that is truly all about the kids. We can’t wait until next year, when we celebrate our 35th Annual Olympia Toy Run and 35 years of helping The Salvation Army help kids! Until we meet again, Happy New Year everyone!”
Quick Throttle Magazine would like to thank Joe Sullivan along with every member of the entire Olympia Toy Run Coalition, who year after year donate hundreds of hours of their personal time to organize and pull off one of the oldest and largest Toy Runs in the history of motorcycling – The Olympia Toy Run!