Thousands of Riders Attend The 35th Annual The Olympia Toy Run
Written by Diana Olmstead
Photographed by Robin Hudson & Diana Olmstead
An estimated 9,000 motorcyclist awoke on the morning of Saturday Dec 1st to take part in the 35th Annual Olympia Toy Run. The skies were grey and the weather forecast that morning predicted a 90% chance of rain. No doubt about it, the threat of rain stopped many from hopping on their scoots. But 9,000 die-hard riders we’re committed to the cause – making sure that local children from low income families would have a very merry Christmas after all!
Before leaving home, riders bundled up in their warmest gear and/or rain suits. Their toy donations were packed in their saddlebags or wrapped in plastic bags and bungeed to their bikes. It was time to roll to the starting and staging point of the days festivities, the Sears parking lot at the South Sound Center in Lacey, Wa.
Volunteers from the Olympia Toy Run Coalition greeted riders as they pulled in the parking lot directing the flow of bikes to the gate area where the volunteers collected $10 cash donations from riders who opted to donate cash rather than toys. After stopping at the gate the riders proceeded to line up and park their bikes in preparation for the 1 pm motorcycle parade.
Although there was a damp chill in the air, the rain had subsided and it was time to walk over to vendor row to find a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate and to check out and shop at the dozen or so vendor booths.
Joe “Santa” Sullivan, one of the original 27 men who started the Toy Run 35 years ago, was dressed in his Santa suit busy passing out candy canes and having his picture taken with hundreds of boys and girls. Many of the riders also took a minute to personally greet or meet Santa Joe. They wanted to get a picture with him; to thank him for his selflessness and for sticking by a commitment he made in 1977 to help low income children via the Salvation Army.
Santa Joe, the Olympia Toy Run Coordinator, is a standup guy. If you’re a friend you already know this about him, he is not one to accept sole credit for this longtime event; he is always quick to point out that “the Olympia Toy Run is organized by a coalition of riders within the greater motorcycle community. These men and women are members of local motorcycle groups, riding clubs, organizations and businesses. Every year, for several months, they sacrifice their own personal time to volunteer and often forfeit taking part in the actual motorcycle parade because they have other Toy Run duties to attend to. I truly couldn’t do this without them.”
Around 11am all eyes were focused on the roped off area where the Seattle Cossacks and the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team performed. No matter how many times you’ve watched them you can’t help but be in awe of their serious riding and stunt skills and think to yourself “Wow! That takes guts and a whole lot of practice!” After their performances, the Olympia Toy Run Coalition presented both groups with a plaque to honor their longtime support of this event. I must say, that was pretty cool and I could see that it meant a lot to the guys.
Before I knew it time had flown by and the massive crowd of riders were heading back to their bikes, zipping up their jackets and donning their helmets; a clear indication that the motorcycle parade was about to begin.
Every year Santa Joe and his passenger lead the parade on his blue Heritage Springer Harley-Davidson towing a trailer packed full of toys! This year’s passenger was a lovely lady named Janelle from the Zonta Club. She was the highest bidder in an auction to be Santa’s passenger. The Zonta Club donated $350 plus dozens of toys to the Olympia Toy Run. At 1pm Santa & Janelle hopped aboard his chromed out sleigh and with a “round ‘em up” wave of his left hand and the twist of his throttle to his right, the parade had officially began!!!
The rumble and sight of 9,000 bikes of all makes and models, many festively decorated, rolling along the streets of Lacey through downtown Olympia was incredible! Hundreds of spectators, both young and old, lined the parade route all snuggled up with heavy coats, blankets and umbrellas. They were waiving, smiling, and some were literally jumping with joy and holding signs that read, “We support the Olympia Toy Run” and “Bikers Have Big hearts” and “Merry Christmas! We thank you!”
I spoke to several families who do not ride motorcycles but collect toys to donate to this event. One father said “I don’t ride street bikes but I love checking them out and supporting this event, just like I don’t drive a hydroplane but I still go and support the races. It’s just great family entertainment. Plus the Toy Run helps kids in my city, it brings money to my city and it definitely brings lots of smiles. My kids look forward to it every year!”
I thought about what that father said, I saw the look in his kids eyes as they watched 9,000 bikes go by. It’s a completely different viewpoint as a spectator – the thunderous rumble, the mere length of the parade, the variety of bikes ranging from cool customs, Harley’s, Honda’s, CanAm’s, Yamaha’s, Victory’s, Suzuki’s, BMW’s to name just a few. It is truly an awesome sight to see!
The parade route ended along the shores of Capitol Lake. Riders rolled to a stop and parked their bikes along both sides of Deschutes Parkway. They unpacked and unstrapped their toys and headed towards Marathon Park where several large trucks and cargo trailers were parked waiting to be filled to the brim with toys.
This extraordinary day came to a close with Jack Jackson emceeing the lakeside closing ceremony which featured speeches by Joe “Santa” Sullivan, Major Bill Lum and Major Ray Cooper.
As of print time the 35th Annual Olympia Toy Run donation totals are as follows: 3,585 toys valued at $85,000 were collected, along with $3,800 in cash, plus $2,400 from the Salvation Army kettles. All toys will be distributed to over 500 local families; the cash donation money is used to purchase food vouchers for every family and additional toys if needed.
I think I can speak on behalf of the thousands of riders who attend the Olympia Toy Run every year when I say that it just isn’t Christmas unless you start off the month of December with the annual pilgrimage to the Olympia Toy Run. This charity event has a contagious festive vibe, no matter what the weather is. Every rider who made a donation knows that giving feels good and that 100% of the toy and cash donations collected go directly to the Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy” Shop.
Joe “Santa” Sullivan had a few words he’d like to share with our readers, “Another great TOY RUN thanks to all those who supported this event for The Salvation Army’s “Toy n’ Joy” Program. Once again local children will have a joyous Christmas thanks to the efforts of the motorcycle community. Sponsors, Vendors, and Volunteers all make this happen, along with state and local agencies. My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you!”
The Sponsors of the 35th Annual Olympia Toy Run are much appreciated. Thank you to 96.9FM South Sound Country, 1240AM KGY, Northwest H-D, Quinault Beach Resort & Casino, Eagle Leather, Little Creek Casino & Resort, D&F Custom Leathers, Bill Funk-Allstate, Northwest Guide Baits, Seattle Cossacks, Tenino Drill Team, Chrome Horse Promotions and Quick Throttle Magazine for going above and beyond to support this charity event.
Congratulations to Mary McHale who was the lucky raffle winner of the handmade Olympia Toy Run themed quilt sewn by Joshua Lambdin.
Major Bill Lum said, “The Toy Run makes Christmas possible and we are honored to be involved. The collected toys are critical to our ability to serve the many needy families in Thurston County.
The event attracted the attention of the National office of The Salvation Army. Major Ray Cooper, the Assistant National Chief Secretary, joined us for the day and was overwhelmed by the number of bikes and generous support.”
No doubt about it, the 35th Annual Olympia Toy Run was a huge success in spite of the weather! Quick Throttle Magazine is proud to be a sponsor and supporter of this fantastic local charity event and we thank everyone who supported it!
Check out the Olympia Toy Run website www.olytoyrun.com periodically for updates, final donation numbers as well as photos of this year’s run. Also be sure to check out “The Olympia Toy Run” Facebook page too!