By Diana Olmstead
Photos by Diana Olmstead & Robin Hudson
40 years ago, 27 men who loved riding motorcycles saw that there were children in their own community who were facing a dreary and desolate Christmas. The thought of a young child not having a 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 make a difference and spread some holiday cheer by starting a charity toy run benefitting The Salvation Army which helps local low-income families.
The Olympia Toy Run Coalition is proud to say that since 1977, the first Saturday in December has become a family tradition for thousands of local motorcycle riders and community members. The Olympia Toy Run has also become one of the longest running motorcycle only charity toy runs in the entire nation!
The Event – South Sound Mall
Not even a continual downpour of rain could dampen the Christmas spirit of 1200 motorcycle enthusiasts who attended the 40th Annual Olympia Toy Run on Saturday, December 2nd, 2017. The majority of riders who rolled into the Olympia Toy Run’s starting and staging location at South Sound Mall in Lacey, WA. were bundled up in rain gear and leathers.
As the riders made their way past the Santa Shack entrance gate, they made a $10, $15 (or more) cash donation or they proudly displayed the toys that were strapped to their bikes to be donated to the event’s long-time charity beneficiary – The Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy Shop”.
After the riders exited the Santa Shack, they pulled forward to the meticulously organized staging area. After parking and dismounting their bikes, they removed their helmets and gloves, chatted with fellow friends and began to make their way towards vendor row.
Approximately two dozen vendors filled vendor row this year. Several Toy Run Sponsors had booths: Northwest H-D, KGY/KAYO Radio, Allstate Insurance, Max Meyers Law, and O Bee Credit Union. In addition to those mentioned above there was a great mix of booths that ranged from heated clothing, leather hair ponys, chocolate truffles, non-profit organizations, pins & patches, food trucks, and hot cocoa and coffee vendors. This area was packed with riders who were mingling with one another, doing a bit of Christmas shopping, getting info from a few of the vendors, as well as warming up with something hot to eat or drink.
The Quick Throttle Crew took a few minutes to wander over to the massive parking lot that was jam packed with row after row of bikes. Wow! What a sight! It seemed like just about every make and model under the sun, or should I say ‘clouds’, was parked and on display. I saw Harleys, Honda’s, Indians, Yamaha’s, Can-Am’s, Triumph’s, Norton’s, BMW’s, Kawasaki’s, Victory’s and I’m certain there were a few others as well. Many of the bikes were decked out in Christmas garland and packed with toys!
At 11am, the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team was the first to perform to the soggy crowd who lined the performance area perimeter. The Team did a great job and were truly festive in their red and black attire and Santa hats.
Next up to perform was the nearly 80-year-old Seattle Cossacks Motorcycle Stunt & Drill Team riding their stock 1930’s and 40’s vintage Harleys.
Both teams were quite impressive to watch. The accuracy of their stunts and maneuvers was something to behold. Not to mention when you add in the slick conditions caused by the rain, it increased the level of risk those men all took all in the spirit of showmanship.
At one o’ clock sharp, Santa and his 5-year-old granddaughter, Lexi fired up his motorcycle and sidecar signaling the official start of the motorcycle only parade.
All of Santa’s motorcycle riding helpers donned their helmets and fired up their colorful scoots in a unified roar. You could feel the excitement and holiday joy in the air as the bikes slowly began to roll!
Santa Joe and a pair of Olympia Police Department motorcycles led the long line of bikes behind the mall and out onto westbound Pacific Avenue. The motorcycle only parade continued under the freeway and merged onto State Avenue proceeding down the East Olympia hill. The motorcycles, riding four wide, made their way into downtown Olympia where they made a left turn onto Capitol Boulevard, and then shortly thereafter, a right-hand turn onto Fifth Avenue heading towards Capitol Lake and, finally, a left turn at the Capitol Lake Dam onto Deschutes Parkway, ending at Marathon Park.
All along the route onlookers of all ages lined the streets wearing rain coats, holding huge umbrellas, and holding signs that read “Merry Christmas!” and “Thank you!” and my favorite, “Santa is a biker!”
End of Parade
As the sea of bikes rolled onto Deschutes Parkway and parked along both sides of the street, we could hear several bikes rockin’ Christmas tunes on their stereos. Despite the rain, the Christmas spirit was emanating throughout the crowd of bikes and riders. The sidewalks were crowded with riders who joyfully carried armloads of dollies, board games, kitchen play sets, remote control cars, Tonka trucks, building blocks, bicycles, tricycles and more, to the Salvation Army donation trucks that were parked near the event stage. Even with the rain kicking up everyone was having a good time, smiling, laughing and proudly supporting the Olympia Toy Run’s heartfelt motto, “It’s all about the kids!”
“Santa Joe” Sullivan, who led the parade and is a founding father of the Olympia Toy Run, drew the crowd together for the closing of the 40th Annual Olympia Toy Run. Santa stood on the stage alongside Envoy Richard Pease of The Salvation Army to thank the riders for supporting the Olympia Toy Run for the past 40 years through rain, sleet and snow to ensure that local children from low income families have a very Merry Christmas via the Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy Shop”.
The need for donations this holiday season was enormous. Many of the children who receive gifts come from military families or families battling illnesses, injuries, recent family deaths, job loss and homelessness. Many times, their financial hardship is a short-term situation that is simply hitting them hard during the holidays.
It is important to note that 100% of the cash and toy donations raised from the Olympia Toy Run go directly to assisting low income families. As of our print deadline, The Olympia Toy Run has made an initial cash donation of $10,375.00 and a total of 4,125 toys valued at $105,500 dollars were collected and donated to the Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy Shop”.
The Olympia Toy Run Coalition wants to publicly thank all of their fantastic Sponsors: Northwest Harley-Davidson, KGY/KAYO radio, Quick Throttle Magazine, Westside Tavern, Ronelle Funk @ Allstate Insurance, O Bee Credit Union, Max Meyers Law, South Sound Center, Northwest Guide Baits, Island Johnny, D & F Leathers, Tenino Drill Team and the Seattle Cossacks.
A special thank you goes out to the Combat Vets Motorcycle Association for securing three “Desert Storm” era six-axle trucks and loading them with toy donations collected at South Sound Mall.
It is evident to all who attend this huge charity event that it would never happen without the dedication of the Olympia Toy Run Coalition members who volunteer year-round to put this event together. Special thanks to: Founding father – “Santa Joe” Sullivan, Olympia Chapter/ABATE of WA, Mason Co Chapter/ABATE of WA, Society’s Deviants MC, Descendants of 51, GoldWing Road Riders’ Association, GoldWing Touring Association, CMA/Olympia Light Riders, Combat Vets Motorcycle Assoc., and a handful of individuals from within the motorcycle community.
And last but not least, we thank every rider who weathered the rain and brought toys or made cash donations. We thank you for remembering that The Olympia Toy Run is a charity event and we do it every year because “It’s all about the kids!”
Check out the Olympia Toy Run website www.olytoyrun.com and “The Olympia Toy Run” Facebook page for updates and final donation numbers (Toys and cash are still trickling in) To see pictures of this year’s 40th Annual Olympia Toy Run, click here.