No doubt about it, the 36th Annual Olympia Toy Run was one of the coldest Toy Run’s ever. The morning of the Olympia Toy Run it was a bone chilling 16 degrees with a wind chill factor of well below zero when riding.
Local temps had been below freezing for a full week prior to the event. The local news had been covering dozens of stories about accidents on icy roads and homes and businesses dealing with ruptured water pipes.
To make matters worse, the day before the Toy Run several outlying areas south of Olympia received snow making travel even more treacherous.
The Olympia Toy Run Coalition knows that on any given year, the weather could have a major impact on bike attendance. Given that this annual motorcycle event is always the first Saturday in December, we simply cross our fingers and pray for the best.
Over the past 35 years, local motorcycle riders have always come through somehow some way for the Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy” Shop. Riders know that 100% of their toy and cash donations go directly to help local low income families with Christmas gifts for their children and food vouchers for a holiday meal. That’s the very essence of the holiday spirit – to give to those in need and to make a child’s Christmas day joyful.
As a mother, a Nana and a biker, I can’t imagine a child not having a gift to open on Christmas morning. Yet, I know that without the Olympia Toy Run that is indeed what would happen to hundreds of local children. It is truly commendable that the local motorcycle community takes on the responsibility of making sure than no child goes without.
There are those who do not ride that ignorantly think we all take part in the Olympia Toy Run for “the glory or attention” or a handful will comment and complain on some online news article that it “ties up traffic”. Let’s get real; the Olympia Toy Run has been going on for 36 years on the 1st Saturday in December. It gets virtually little to no coverage from any of the 3 major local news networks. So attention and glory are certainly not why we do it. As Santa Joe has stated for the past 36 years, “We do it for the kids!” The proof of that statement is evident when you talk with the parents who walk through the doors of the Salvation Army to pick out toys for their children. They are so grateful and appreciative; sometimes they break down in tears, many will talk about why they’re struggling – job loss, illness, divorce, etc. Usually it is a temporary unexpected setback rather than a long-term lifestyle choice.
I can’t think of any other group of people, besides celebrities (who do get tons of attention and glory) accomplish what we do in a matter of a few hours. “So what” if we do it on motorcycles – the truth is we do it quickly and efficiently. Our motorcycle parade literally lasts 1-2 hours. I’ve seen marathons shut down major arterials in and around the greater downtown Seattle area for an entire day and that seems to be perfectly ok?
Riders who attend the Olympia Toy Run are a diverse group of people. They are blue and white collar people, they are local military, Boeing workers, mailmen, mechanics, nurses, doctors, teachers, business owners, secretaries, computer geeks, retirees, you name it. Some ride in with a group, some arrive solo, but all are packing toys and cash!
Every rider who rode into the staging area at the South Sound Mall Sears parking lot was either wearing several layers of clothing or they were plugged into heated riding gear. My friend Robin and I were prepared; we had put heat warmers in our boots, hand warmers in our gloves and hand warmers tucked into a few other places! Don’t laugh, it actually worked quite well!
Members of Descendants of 51 Riding Club and South Sound H.O.G. were the people that greeted riders as soon as they pulled in to the Sears parking lot. They did an exceptional job of directing bike traffic through the parking lot to the gate and then onto the motorcycle staging area.
Society’s Deviants MC did a phenomenal job working the Santa Shack aka known as “the gate”. This group of men and women stood in the cold for several hours accepting donation money and toys from each rider, and affixing 36th Annual Olympia Toy Run wristbands to the handlebars of every bike that made a donation. Because they were handling cash and wristbands, wearing gloves was not an option. Yet not one of them complained, they smiled, laughed and greeted every rider with enthusiasm.
After getting their bikes parked, just about every rider wanted to warm up with a hot cup of coffee or cocoa. Needless to say vendor row was a very popular place to check out. The 10 vendors on hand were very busy selling hot food and beverages or some type of cold weather merchandise such as hoodies and hats.
Joe “Santa” Sullivan, one of the original 27 men who started the Toy Run 36 years ago, was dressed in his Santa suit, sitting on his Harley sleigh, posing for pictures with kids, from toddlers to teens.
When he wasn’t busy posing for pictures with a child or a family many of the Toy Run riders also wanted to capture a minute of his time. They wanted to shake his hand and personally thank him for his 36 year commitment to helping local kids during the holidays.
At 11 o’clock everyone gathered around the roped off area that bordered one side of vendor row to watch the Seattle Cossacks and the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team perform. It was extremely cold and I couldn’t help but wonder how the cold air affected some of their old bikes and bodies (Forgive me fellas) not to mention their stunts and maneuvers! I was shivering just standing there watching them. Yet the Cossacks were riding upside down and the Drill Team was performing precision maneuvers within inches of each other!
After their performances the crowd dispersed and headed back to their bikes, the riders began to plug in their heated gear, zip up their jackets and don their helmets as the motorcycle parade was about to begin.
At 1 pm Santa Joe and his passenger mounted his chromed our Harley sleigh and with a twinkle in his eye, and a twist of his wrist, he signaled it was time to go! All of Santa’s leather clad biker elves followed his lead and with a thunderous roar the motorcycle parade had begun!
All along the route hundreds of spectators, young and old, endured the piercing cold to line the parade route. They sat in lawn chairs or stood, wrapped up tightly in blankets, heavy coats, hats and gloves. The excitement in the air was far more powerful than the freezing temperature! They were smiling, waiving and holding signs that read, “We support the Olympia Toy Run” and “Merry Christmas!” and my favorite, “Santa is a biker!”
When the bikes all rolled onto Deschutes Parkway the view was spectacular, although it was extremely chilly it was a gorgeous day and the sun was out. The lake was partially frozen and the Washington State Capitol building sat gallantly in the background.
The holiday spirit was definitely in the air as I walked around and spoke with many of the riders. I wanted to personally thank as many of them as I could for their support and donations.
One of the things that really stood out this year as I walked up and down Deschutes Parkway where the bikes had all parked was the number of toys that riders were unloading off their bikes. It was very common to see people unpacking several toys from their bikes rather than donating one toy. It was truly a Christmas miracle!
You see, the weather had a major impact on the number of bikes who participated in the actual parade. Many riders south of Olympia had received some snowfall the day before which had turned into sheer ice by Saturday morning. It was just too dangerous to even consider getting on their bikes. I heard from riders north of Tacoma who attempted to ride in but only made it half way and had to turn back due to the extreme cold.
A large number of those that couldn’t make the ride did the right thing and took their toy donations to one of several drop-off locations the day before, the day of, or the day after the Olympia Toy Run. Thank you to all of you who did that!
In the past we’ve drawn ten thousand bikes or more. Due to the extreme weather conditions that was not the case year. But what did happen was that 1,500 festively decorated street legal bikes of all makes and models beat last year’s toy count by nearly 700 toys! Riders donated a grand total of 4,272 toys valued at $64,000 this year! As I go to print, nearly $16,500 in cash has been collected from donations at the gate, from vendors, Toy Run Pins and T-shirts, the scissor lift, 2 Toy Run quilts and a huge donation of nearly $6,000 from the Quinault Beach Resort & Casino who raffled off a new Harley in November and generously gave half of the proceeds to the Olympia Toy Run!
What none of us knew when we all stepped up and gave so generously on Dec 7th, was that the Salvation Army “Toy n’ Joy” Shop had a record number of families sign up for help this year. Your donations enabled over 700 local families with children to enjoy a bright and blessed Christmas!
Every year I see or learn something profound from this event, the lesson I learned this year was that the numbers that really matter are the number of toys we collect and the number of families that we help. In the end, this turned out to be one of the most successful Olympia Toy Runs ever!
I asked Santa Joe, what he’d like to say to all of the riders who supported the 36th Annual Olympia Toy Run, this was his reply, “First I’d like to thank everyone who braved the extreme cold weather this year and who showed overflowing generosity with their donations of cash and toys! We may not have set a bike attendance record but I am very proud to say that we set a record of toys and cash donations per bike and that number is what really matters! I’d like to thank all of our fantastic sponsors, the Coalition members, state and local agencies and law enforcement for their help this year. It has been amazing to receive so much support from non-riding members of our local community as well. Year after year I see many of the same families line the parade route to cheer us on and to support this long time community event! Thank you all, I can’t wait until next year’s Olympia Toy Run!”
A special thank you goes out to all of the Sponsors of the 36th Annual Olympia Toy Run. “Thank you” to 96.9 KAYO, AM1240 KGY, Northwest H-D, The Westside Tavern, Quinault Beach Resort & Casino, Quick Throttle Magazine, Chrome Horse Promotions, Urban Custom Bikes, D&F Custom Leathers, Bill Funk-Allstate, Northwest Guide Baits and the Seattle Cossacks and Tenino Drill Team. We’d also like to thank Joshua Lambdin who created one of the hand-sewn Toy Run quilts.
No doubt about it, the 36th Annual Olympia Toy Run was a huge success regardless of the bone chilling weather! Quick Throttle Magazine is proud to be a sponsor and supporter of this local community 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!