Story by Diana Olmstead; Photos by Diana Olmstead & Robin Hudson
Saturday, December 5th, started off as one of the wettest mornings in Olympia Toy Run history. At the crack of dawn a storm dumped several inches of rain in the area. Because we live in the Pacific Northwest and rain is simply part of the season, we adapt.
The Olympia Toy Run takes place regardless of the weather. Over the years we’ve braved a variety of conditions – driving rain, snow and sleet and nothing has ever stopped this charity event. We understand that thousands of local children from low income families are counting on us to make sure that Santa delivers a few presents for them to open on Christmas morning. We also understand that giving is what the holiday spirit is all about.
This year we saw many Toy Run riders decked out in leather chaps & jackets, garbage bags and rain gear to buffer themselves from the torrential morning rain. They smartly placed their new toy donations in plastic bags to keep them dry while they rode from their homes to the staging and starting location in Lacey.
The gates opened at 10am at the South Sound Center Sears parking lot. As soon as the bikes pulled into the parking lot they were greeted by parking volunteers who directed them to the Santa Shack where riders either donated $10-$15 or made toy donations.
As the bikes continued to roll in throughout the morning there was a sense of pride, joy and holiday spirit that emanated throughout the massive crowd.
The majority of Olympia Toy Run riders attend this event every year; it has become a part of their personal Christmas tradition and they wouldn’t miss it for anything! Yet, I also spoke with many riders who told me that this was their first year and they were blown away by all of the bikes and riders who were there to give to the less fortunate. Every one of them said “I’ll be back next year for sure!”
As we walked through the sea of parked motorcycles it was remarkable to witness all of the various street legal makes and models that came together to participate in this motorcycle only charity event. Parked side by side were Harleys, Indians, Triumphs, Gold Wings, Honda’s, Yamahas, BMW’s, rat bikes, scooters and more! In addition to all of the toys and bicycles that were strapped to the bikes many of them had been festively decked out in garland and bows!
Vendor row was a busy place to be too. There was a wide variety of vendors on hand offering up something for just about anyone. There were booths selling and promoting a variety of things – such as hot coffee, pastries, hot dogs, leather hair accessories, heated gear, Harley merchandise, heated clothing, leather hair ties, and more. Several Toy Run sponsors also had booths: Northwest Harley-Davidson, 96.9 KAYO & Olympia’s KGY 95.3, and Nicholson & Associates Insurance.
At 11am the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team and the Seattle Cossacks performed. These amazing 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 and every rider I know respects their talent and precision… especially while watching them perform their jaw dropping maneuvers and stunts in the pouring rain!
Santa Joe Sullivan, the Olympia Toy Run Coordinator and one of the original 27 who started this event 38 years ago, had parked his decked out Harley sleigh near the flagpoles and he was very busy posing for pictures and passing out candy canes to lots of excited children, from tiny tots to teenagers!
In between talking with the kids dozens of riders approached Santa Joe to shake his hand and give him a heartfelt “Thank you” for his 38 year Olympia Toy Run commitment and his pledge to help kids in need through the Salvation Army Toy n’ Joy Shop. If you have never taken a moment to meet Santa Joe I encourage you to do so next year. He is truly a role model and a humble man… and he is deeply loved and respected by many within the community. He doesn’t do this event for personal attention he does it for one reason and one reason only, because “It’s all about the kids!”
The reality is that the need for help grows every year. Many of the local families seeking assistance are military families, or families who have been laid off from their jobs, or who have been dealt a blow due to illness, death and divorce. It’s important not to judge and to understand that things happen and life can change in the blink of an eye. Often times these setbacks are not permanent either. Many of the riders who support the Olympia Toy Run have overcome obstacles and setbacks themselves and that is what motivates them to reach out and lend a helping hand.
An amazing thing happened about 10 minutes before the motorcycle only parade was to start, the rain suddenly stopped. The skies were still dark and gloomy but not a drop off rain was falling! Many riders commented that it felt like a divine blessing from above.
At one o’ clock sharp Santa officially began the parade with a “round ‘em up” wave of his hand and the twist of his throttle! Parked directly behind him were over 1200 motorcycles that fired up their bikes in unison!
Every rider had a big smile on their face as they waved to the hundreds of spectators who had lined the streets to watch the motorcycle parade. Many of the spectators stood with their umbrellas in one hand while shooting video with their cell phones in the other hand. Some managed to find a parking spot along the parade route and watch from the warmth of their vehicles.
One thing is for sure, the Olympia Toy Run is truly a community event. Everyone was smiling, the joy was contagious! Many of the spectators were holding signs that read “Merry Christmas!” and “God Bless You!” But the best part is seeing the excitement and delight on the kids’ faces as all of the bikes rolled on by; that moment in time will forever be part of their childhood holiday memories. I can’t help but wonder how many of those kids will grow up and ride motorcycles and give to the less fortunate.
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.
The sidewalk was jam packed with riders carrying armfuls of toys, small tricycles and bicycles who were making their way to the Salvation Army donation truck. In addition to all of the toy carrying riders, a handful of people made substantially large cash donations. They did it quietly and without fanfare. I spoke to one gentleman who had walked up to the stage and announcements area looking to give his donation to the proper Toy Run or Salvation Army officials. He told me “My entire office donates part of their individual Christmas bonuses to this event because they all enjoy it; even the ones who don’t ride bring their kids and watch it from the sidelines.” I asked him for the name of his office so I could pass the info on to the Coalition. He replied “We prefer to stay anonymous. It’s not about us; it’s about supporting the cause. It’s all about the kids, right?” I thanked him and pointed him in the direction of the person assigned to accept his donation. I hope he is reading this article because I want him to know that on behalf of all of the kids who will have a few gifts to open on Christmas morning “Thank you”.
Santa Joe and the Olympia Toy Run Coalition stated that “We are proud to announce that despite the wind & pouring rain on toy run morning our donation totals were amazing!!! Thank you to everyone who supported this event! We had 1200+ riders participate in the parade. However many more people came to the staging area to simply drop off their donations. A total of 2,884 toys & misc items were donated valued at $67,512.00 + 20 new bicycles were also donated! Plus, $9,185.00 in cash was collected at the gate and donated directly to the Salvation Army! After the Coalition pays all of our expenses associated with the 38th Annual Olympia Toy Run (courtesy of our amazing sponsors) we will be making another sizable cash donation.”
Quick Throttle Magazine is a proud longtime sponsor of the Olympia Toy Run and we are extremely happy that within a matter of hours, even in stormy weather, the motorcycle community came together to help make Christmas a joyous one for thousands of kids.
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, South Sound H.O.G, and Chrome Horse Promotions. The men and women in this group volunteer and meet every single month, year round to put on this charity event.
It is also extremely important that we give a huge thank you to our 38th 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, Nicholson & Associates Insurance, Fisher Jones Dentistry, D&F Custom Leathers, Chrome Horse Promotions and Northwest Guide Baits.
We’d also like to thank the 523d Transportation Company from JBLM for bringing a truck and loading it with toy donations, and to Island Johnny who gave us a great deal on portable restrooms for the event.
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!”
We can’t wait until next year, when we celebrate our 39th Annual Olympia Toy Run and 39 years of helping The Salvation Army help kids via their Toy n’ Joy Shop! If your business or someone you know is interested in becoming a sponsor or vendor please send an email to email@example.com.
Be sure to check out the Olympia Toy Run website www.olytoyrun.com and “like” and share “The Olympia Toy Run” facebook page.