Written by Diana Olmstead, Photos by Cassandra Olmstead, Robin & David Hudson
In the days preceding Saturday, December 3rd, motorcycle riders from all over the Pacific Northwest prepared their bikes for the most anticipated event of the Christmas Season – The Olympia Toy Run!
Our family prepared by picking out a dozen toys and items for boys and girls between the ages of 1-18. We bought Barbie’s, Lego’s, Matchbox cars, tea sets, coloring books, remote control cars and a few other items to donate.
The night before the Toy Run we cranked up the Christmas music in the garage and got busy decorating our bikes with garland and bows! Then we packed all of our toys into Christmas wrapped boxes and bungeed them onto our passenger seats! Yep, we were excited and ready, and so were our kids and granddaughter!
The next morning, we bundled up in long johns, leathers, scarves and hats. I didn’t have any heated gear on, but I did put a few hand warmers and body warmers in strategically placed areas and I was as toasty as can be on the ride in.
As we rolled off I-5 at about 10:15am and took Exit 108, we looked to our right at the South Sound Center Sears parking lot where all of the Olympia Toy Run festivities began. Hundreds of bikes had already rolled in and the gates had only been open for 15 minutes.
We parked our bikes, and then made our way to the man that has made this annual charity event happen for 39 straight years – Santa! Or as we call him Santa Joe! There he was, leaning against his bike sporting his bright red Santa suit and soft white beard, looking as cool and kind as ever!
This year Santa asked my youngest granddaughter Audrey to ride with him in the parade. She was so excited! For an entire week my little peanut had practiced her parade wave. As soon as she saw Santa she made a beeline to his side. She wanted to show him that she was ready to ride; she had her little boots, leather chaps, chain, jacket and bandana on. She was so stinkin’ cute.
I managed to peel her away from Santa for a while so we could go check out all of the vendors in vendor row. We warmed with some hot cocoa and then gathered around the portable heater at the Northwest Harley booth where we visited with our friends from the “Friendliest Shop on the West Coast”! The dealership has been a longtime valued Sponsor of the Olympia Toy Run. Their support over the years has been nothing short of amazing and generous. Every year, they host a free biscuits and gravy breakfast for all of the riders heading to the Toy Run. If you haven’t stopped by and enjoyed their Toy Run breakfast, I encourage you to check it out next year.
After warming up we decided to walk around a bit and check out all of the other vendors who were offering up something for just about anyone. There were booths selling and promoting a variety of things – such as hot coffee, donuts, kettlecorn, hot dogs, heated gear, Harley merchandise, powder coating & pinstriping, and more. Another one of the Olympia Toy Run Sponsors, 96.9 KAYO & Olympia’s KGY 95.3, were on hand doing a live remote broadcast letting all of their listeners know about all of the fun that was taking place.
After checking out the vendors we decided to go check out all of the bikes. By now there were thousands of bikes parked. All different types too! There were choppers, bobbers, rat bikes, trikes, cruisers, baggers and dual sports! Every make and model you could think of took part! If you had a street legal bike you were welcome to participate. Many of the bikes were decked out with Christmas lights, candy canes, garland and of course, toys! Lots and lots of toys!
Admission to this charity event was $10 single/$15 couple or 1-2 new unwrapped toys. It was a common sight to see bikes overflowing with toys well exceeding the suggested admission donation. I’m not surprised by that, anyone who knows anything about the motorcycle community knows that bikers have the biggest hearts and are the most generous group of people.
The local motorcycle community shows up every year by the thousands, in all types of weather, because they know that local children from low income families are counting on Santa and his (leather clad) elves to provide a few presents for them to open on Christmas morning. Admit it; there is nothing more meaningful than knowing that a child will squeal with delight because Santa remembered them!
100% of the donations collected at the Olympia Toy Run and at various designated toy drop locations are distributed to families via the Salvation Army Toy N’ Joy Shop. It is truly amazing that in a matter of hours, without any hype or coverage from the local TV stations, the motorcycle community can gather together respectfully, filled with holiday joy, and accomplish so much. The Salvation Army counts on this event to help them meet the needs of the less fortunate.
At 11am the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team and the Seattle Cossacks performed. These men have supported the Olympia Toy Run for many, many years. They are a definitely a huge part of the Toy Run. The crowd loved watching them perform. This was the first time that my granddaughter Audrey had the pleasure of watching them perform. Watching her excitement level peak and listening to her comments was the funniest thing ever. At one point when the Cossacks were performing she yelled out “Nana, look, that guy is upside down!” And a few minutes later she was jumping up and down, pulling on my arm saying “Look Nana, he is riding his bike backwards! Can you do that?” I said, “No, Nana cannot do that, but it sure is cool watching them do it!” She said, “How come you can’t do that?” I said, “Because I’m old” thinking that would be then end of it. Then without missing a beat, she said, “Well those guys are old and they can do it!” Hahaha! Sorry Team!
After the stunt teams performed we headed back to our bikes as it was almost time for the parade to start! Papa and I got Audrey all bundled up and helped her into Santa’s sidecar. She was ready and grinning from ear to ear!
At one o’ clock sharp Santa fired up his bike and officially began the parade with the twist of his throttle! Following directly behind him were over 3000 motorcycles!
A bit of liquid sunshine started to come down on us but that was ok, nothing could dampen our holiday spirit and that’s what riding in the Pacific Northwest is all about. There were hundreds of families and individuals who had lined the streets to watch the motorcycle parade roll on by! The spectators stood, bundled up, with umbrellas in one hand while waving with their other hand. The Olympia Toy Run has truly become a community holiday event. Many of the spectators were holding signs that read “Thank you!” and “Merry Christmas!”
The parade came to an end at Marathon Park on Deschutes Parkway. For as far as you could see, bikes lined both sides of street, it was an awesome sight to behold as the rain began to really pour.
The sidewalk was jam packed with wet riders carrying armfuls of toys and bicycles to donate. Several people walked up and made large cash donations. They did not seek notoriety, they preferred to stay anonymous and blend in just like everyone around them. They said that they simply wanted to give back to their local community and show their support of the Olympia Toy Run. To those individuals, we thank you.
With the rain coming down hard, Santa Joe and Major Lum of The Salvation Army made their way to the podium to wrap things up by thanking everyone who attended, donated and supported the 39th Annual Olympia Toy Run.
This year 3,000-3,500 riders participated in the motorcycle parade. However many more people came to the staging area to simply drop off their donations. A total of 5,238 new toys & misc items were donated valued at $131,000.00!!! (Donations are still trickling in so that number will rise in the coming weeks) Plus, $11,400.00 in cash was collected at the gate and donated directly to the Salvation Army! After the Coalition pays all of their expenses associated with the 39th Annual Olympia Toy Run (courtesy of their amazing sponsors) they will be making another sizable cash donation to the Salvation Army.
None of this would’ve been possible without the behind the scenes work of the Olympia Toy Coalition members. Thank you to the representatives of the following groups: Olympia Chapter – ABATE of WA, Mason Co Chapter – ABATE of WA, Descendants of 51, Gold Wing Road Riders’ Association, Gold Wing Touring Association, Olympia Light Riders-CMA, Society’s Deviants MC, Combat Vets Motorcycle Assoc, and South Sound H.O.G.. The men and women on the Coalition volunteer and meet up year round to put on this huge, well-orchestrated, charity event.
It is also extremely important that we give a huge “Thank you” to our 39th Annual Olympia Toy Run Sponsors. Because of their generosity to step up and cover the costs associated with putting together this amazing charity event, 100% of your donations went straight to the kids! “Thank you” to: Northwest Harley-Davidson, 96.9 KAYO Country/Olympia’s KGY 95.3, The Westside Tavern, Quick Throttle Magazine, D&F Custom Leathers, Northwest Guide Baits and Island Johnny.
We’d also like to thank the 523rd Transportation Company from JBLM for bringing two trucks and loading them with toy donations.
Quick Throttle Magazine is a proud longtime sponsor of the Olympia Toy Run and we are extremely happy that within a matter of hours the motorcycle community came together to help make Christmas a joyous one for thousands of kids.
Santa Joe and the Olympia Toy Run Coalition send out a heartfelt thank you to every rider who brought toys or made a cash donation. Thank you for remembering that the Olympia Toy Run is a charity event and “It’s all about the kids!”
Next year be sure to take part in the 40th Annual Olympia Toy Run and 40 years of helping The Salvation Army help kids via their Toy n’ Joy Shop!
If you’re a business owner and you’re interested in becoming a sponsor or vendor please send an email to email@example.com.
2016 - Olympia Toy Run
Photos by Cassandra Olmstead, Robin & David Hudson