Kickstarting the Christmas holiday with The 41st Annual Olympia Toy Run

By Diana Olmstead. Photos by Robin Hudson & Diana Olmstead. 

There is no better way to kickstart the Christmas holiday than by participating in the Olympia Toy Run!

I knew the minute I awoke on Saturday, December 1st, that it was going to be a spectacular day. The local weatherman had predicted mostly sunny skies and Santa had predicted a couple thousand happy, leather wearing, motorcycle riding “elves” would roll into South Sound Center in Lacey, WA later that morning to participate in the 41st Annual Olympia Toy Run benefiting the Salvation Army Toy n’ Joy Shop.

Although it was sunny, it was also quite chilly, so I bundled up in layers wearing my Olympia Toy Run hoodie and my favorite cozy Harley-Davidson Santa hat. I then headed out the door to meet up with freelance photographer Robin Hudson, who also happens to be my best buddy. She too, was all decked out in holiday gear and ready to get the day started!

From our neck of the woods we headed south along Hwy 3 to Hwy 101 and then north along I-5 to Exit 108. It was around 10:15 am when we hit the off ramp. As we looked over at the South Sound Center Sears parking lot it was already filling up with quite a few bikes. I was impressed since the parking and staging area had just opened fifteen minutes earlier.

As soon as bikes rolled into the parking lot, they were greeted by several dozen parking volunteers who managed the flow of incoming motorcycles in a well-organized manner. Riders were pointed in the direction of the Santa Shack a.k.a. the gate, where they made a cash donation if they didn’t have a toy or two packed on their bikes to donate.

After exiting the Santa Shack, riders pulled their motorcycles into one of the many dedicated rows of parking in preparation of the afternoon’s motorcycle-only parade.

Although it was sunny and beautiful, it was a typical chilly Pacific Northwest December day. Because of the chilly ride in that morning, most riders headed over to vendor row looking to warm up with some hot coffee, cocoa or apple cider.

The vendor area is always a hub of activity as it is filled with a variety of vendors, ranging from food and beverages, biker accessories and apparel, to local organizations and several 2018 Olympia Toy Run Sponsor booths, such as Northwest Harley-Davidson, 95.3 KGY/96.9 KAYO radio, Ronelle Funk/Allstate Insurance, Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates and OBEE Credit Union. The odds are pretty good that you will run into someone you know in the jam-packed vendor area. I could barely walk ten feet without shaking hands, hugging or wishing someone I knew a “Merry Christmas!”

I don’t know if it was the fantastic weather, the pure joy of doing something good for the children in our community, the fact that this is simply part of our Christmas tradition, or maybe it was a combination of all three; but one thing was for sure – everyone’s spirits were filled with peace, love, laughter and holiday joy!

Sitting on his motorcycle at the head of the parked pack was the man who started this amazing charity event forty-one years ago, Santa Joe Sullivan. Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know this big-hearted man, knows that Santa is indeed very real! Kids and adults of all ages greeted Santa and had their pictures taken with him. Many of the kids would excitedly share with Santa what they hoped to find under their Christmas tree this year, and several other kids wanted to share stories of what toys they had picked out and donated to the Olympia Toy Run.

One adorable seven-year-old boy named Nathan, told me, “I brought some toys today to help Santa and his elves out since they are getting kind of old. And there are so many kids in the world now and his list is super-duper-duper big. My dad said the elves can’t keep up making all of the toys so we get to help! And look what Santa gave me, he gave me a candy cane!” After our quick little chat, he ran off with his dad to go look at all of the motorcycles.

Robin and I headed over to the scissor lift to capture some great aerial shots of the motorcycle staging area, vendor row, and the stunt team performance area. While we were up in the air, the Tenino Motorcycle Drill Team was wrapping up their performance of precision maneuvers. Up next was the Seattle Cossacks Motorcycle Stunt and Drill Team.

The scissor lift is also an event fundraiser – people donate five dollars to go up in the lift for a few minutes to take a few keepsake photos.

Once back on the ground we made our way over to the performance area to continue watching the Seattle Cossacks. The crowds lined the entire perimeter of their roped off area completely captivated by the team’s riveting performance.

Approximately fifteen minutes after the stunt team concluded their performance riders headed back towards their bikes to gear up for the motorcycle-only parade.

At one o’clock on the dot Santa Joe looked over at his sidecar passenger, his granddaughter Lexi, and with a huge grin fired up his chromed-out scoot! In total unison, two thousand motorcycles, of all makes and models, roared to life behind Santa!

Santa exited the South Sound Center Sears parking lot with a pair of Olympia Police Department motorcycles escorting him and the long line of bikes behind him onto westbound Pacific Avenue, under the freeway and then merging onto State Avenue down the East Olympia hill 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.

There is something so cool about the thunderous roar of two thousand motorcycles echoing off of all the downtown buildings. Many of the bikes and riders were completely decked out in festive garland, Santa hats, scarves and bows. Packed in saddlebags or tied to luggage racks and sissy bars were all types of toys for girls and boys of any age.

Along the parade route families were perched on the sidewalks and they were waving and cheering! Several were holding hand painted signs that read “I love Santa!” and “Merry Christmas!” and “Thank you!”

Down at the end of the parade route, along Deschutes Parkway, bikes lined both sides of street for as far as I could see. Once again, it was a very peaceful and respectful parking process.

The sidewalk, which led to the area where the huge Salvation Army toy donation truck was situated, was jam packed with jovial riders carrying armfuls of toys and bicycles to donate.

Santa Joe and Captain Stearns of The Salvation Army made their way to the podium to address the crowd and thank everyone for attending, supporting and donating to the 41st Annual Olympia Toy Run.

This year nearly 2,000 riders participated in the motorcycle parade. They donated 3,731 new toys that were valued at $93,275.00!!! In addition, $10,275.00 in cash was collected at the Santa Shack gate that day. The donation money was counted, immediately given to the Salvation Army and 100% of it is earmarked to help families in need by purchasing more toys for the children if needed, along with providing housing & other program assistance.

An additional $14,597 was raised from the Olympia Toy Run merchandise sales (hoodies, t-shirts, pins) plus vendor fees, the scissor lift, prize tickets & other donations.

After the Coalition pays all of their expenses associated with the 41st Annual Olympia Toy Run (courtesy of their amazing sponsors) they will be making another sizable cash donation to the Salvation Army.

This event happens year after year due to the commitment of founding father, Santa Joe Sullivan and the Olympia Toy Run Coalition members. They are the heart and soul of the Olympia Toy Run. The members meet year-round to organize this impressive charity event. They work with city officials, law enforcement, capitol campus security, insurance companies, sponsors, vendors and more.

Quick Throttle would like to give a big shout out to the individuals and the representatives who are on the Olympia Toy Run Coalition: First and foremost – Santa Joe Sullivan, and Olympia Chapter – ABATE of WA, Mason Co Chapter – ABATE of WA, Society’s Deviants MC, Descendants of 51, Gold Wing Road Riders’ Association, Gold Wing Touring Association, CMA – Olympia Light Riders, Combat Vets Motorcycle Assoc, and Warrior B.E.A.R.S, along with webmaster – BlackJack, Vendor Coordinator – Vanessa  Torres, and Sponsor & PR Spokesperson – Diana Olmstead.

It is important that we acknowledge and give a huge “Thank you” to our 41st Annual Olympia Toy Run Sponsors. It is their financial generosity and/or support that enables the Coalition to put this event together and cover the ever-growing costs associated with this amazing charity event. Their donations also ensure that 100% of your donations went straight to the kids. “Thank you” to: Northwest Harley-Davidson, Quick Throttle Magazine, 96.9 KAYO Country and Olympia’s KGY 95.3, The Westside Tavern, Ronelle Funk Allstate Insurance, OBEE Credit Union, Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates, Max Meyers Law, Northwest Guide Baits, Farmboy Restaurant, D&F Custom Leathers, Island Johnny, South Sound Center, Sears, Lew Rents and Sunbelt Rentals.

We’d also like to thank the 523rd Transportation Company from JBLM for bringing three military trucks and loading them with toy donations, South Sound Search and Rescue for their parking assistance, and Applebee’s Grill + Bar for offering riders a Toy Run Special breakfast and donating half of the breakfast proceeds back to the Olympia Toy Run.

Everyone who attended should feel a sense of pride and joy knowing that within a matter of hours the motorcycle community came together to help make Christmas special for thousands of local kids.

Santa Joe and the Olympia Toy Run Coalition thank 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!”

For me personally the Olympia Toy Run was a great way to end 2018! Like many of you I am looking forward to new and continued adventures in 2019. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you all down the road! Until we meet again, peace out.

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