By Darren Wright
In 1977, Santa Joe as he is now known, was talking with some friends and wanted to do something that improved the reputation of bikers. So, they decided to collect toys for local children while doing what they loved, riding motorcycles. That first year, 27 bikers showed up in Olympia, Washington for the run, and the long wonderful history of the Olympia Toy Run began. Santa Joe still chairs the committee that organizes the run. He has been there since the beginning; planning, growing and improving what is now believed to be the largest toy run on the west coast, and possibly the second longest running one in the country.
Santa Joe and the bikers whose reputation he hoped to improve have raised over $2.5 million. This year they, with the help of the Salvation Army, will make Christmas special for 800 families in multiple counties throughout western Washington.
I had the chance to sit down with Santa Joe and ask about the run. He was quick to say he is “a hood ornament.” He is the person everyone sees steering the run, but it is his outstanding committee that is the engine underneath that hood ornament that makes it happen. On several occasions while speaking with him, I heard him say “Paying it forward.” His other favorite line is, “It’s all about the kids.” This is just a small sample of the love that could be felt throughout the day we spent at the run.
My wife Sue and I arrived just before the gates opened. Vendors were setting up their tents and there was already a pretty good-sized crowd. A steady flow of motorcycles would arrive, being guided by volunteers from motorcycle clubs and organizations like ABATE of Washington, Olympia and Mason County chapters. Intermittent rain would fall throughout the morning, but that didn’t faze the volunteers or riders from bringing literally truck loads of toys for the kids. One of the donations included 600 Easy-Bake kits coordinated by War Born MC and Inferno’s Pizza. Donations were loaded into military trucks that the Combat Vets MA arranged through a local military vehicle club.
Also, many businesses sponsor the Olympia Toy Run, although not occupying a booth, including MaxPower Law, who told us, “MaxPower Law is a proud sponsor of the Annual Toy Run in Olympia… All proceeds benefit the Salvation Army Toy n’ Joy Shop. As their website says, ‘For this day, we are one sister/brotherhood of riders thinking of the smiles our toys will bring to kids’ faces.’”
The crowd was provided with entertainment while they waited for the kickstands to go up. The Tenino Drill Team and the Seattle Cossacks both put on excellent skilled riding demonstrations. Vendor row had booths including those offering food, insurance, legal services and items to purchase. Iron Horse Apparel had a great selection of clothing and motorcycle items for those who needed to do some additional Christmas shopping. In fact their photo here is from before things got started*; soon they were too busy helping everyone to even pose for a still shot, but we did get them on Facebook Live.
I spoke with Derek from Law Tigers, also on Facebook Live, who also had a booth. He was happy to be a part of the event, and helping support local children during the holiday season.
The bikes were staged in the parking lot, stacked side by side, row after row. Right on schedule, Santa Joe led the nearly 2,000 bikes from the parking lot of South Sound Mall to Marathon Park at the Capitol Campus. Many were decorated with Christmas cheer, and I even saw a few grinches who found it in their hearts to come down and add to the collection of toys for kids who may not otherwise receive any.
Even the rain couldn’t keep people from joining Santa Joe in his quest to help all those kids. I asked him if there was ever a run when it didn’t rain, and he said with a chuckle, “Once, but it was really cold.” If you have never been to the Olympia Toy Run, you are missing out on a wonderful experience. Plan on being there for the 43rd year. Yes, it will probably rain, but the joy, comradery and giving that occurs is well worth it.
*Photo of Iron Horse Apparel booth- courtesy of same.