Toy Run brings thousands of generous bikers to Olympia

The rumble of thousands of motorcycles echoed Saturday afternoon through Olympia as riders from South Sound and beyond drove through the city bearing toys, games and money for the Salvation Army.

The riders donned Santa hats, reindeer antlers and elf ears — over their helmets, of course — and decorated their bikes with Christmas lights, wreaths and tinsel.

The annual Olympia Toy Run has passed through the area since 1977, this year starting at South Sound Center in Lacey and ending at Marathon Park in Olympia. Event coordinator “Santa” Joe Sullivan said the Toy Run has collected about $2 million in toys and money since it started, and that between 5,000 and 10,000 riders participate each year.

This year, Sullivan estimated there were close to 10,000 riders.

“This year’s a big one,” Sullivan said. “People don’t mind the rain that much. We’ve only ever had to cancel the event a couple times, and that was because of the snow.”

And Sullivan would know, as he’s witnessed all 38 of the Toy Runs. For most of those years, he’s driven the route in a full Santa suit. He also works as a downtown Olympia Santa Claus.

The event started as a way for motorcycle riders to connect with and give back to the community, he explained.

“Motorcyclists haven’t always had the best rapport with the community,” he said. “We’re trying to change that.”

Since its beginnings, the event has grown to include several motorcycle clubs and community organizations — and even the Army. Sullivan explained that soldiers drive a large truck filled with toys as part of the festivities.

“They’re a big part of the community, so it’s nice to have them participate,” Sullivan said.

The Olympia Toy Run is an all-day affair. Motorcyclists began arriving early in the morning, with the event officially starting at 10 a.m. Motorcycle drill teams performed at noon, and the riders pulled out of the South Sound Center at 1 p.m.

Salvation Army volunteers dressed in red aprons met them by Capitol Lake, collecting the gifts and loading them into a truck while a band played “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Shawn Tomisser of Olympia said he brings the same gift every year: Hot Wheels cars.

“They were my favorite toy when I was a kid,” he said. “So I have to pass that on.”

He and his fiancée, Diana Olmstead, also brought a board game and a stuffed, neon-green monkey.

“I just couldn’t help but bring him,” Olmstead said. “I thought he would look great in the stands at a Seahawks game.”

The couple said they attend the event every year — partially because they love giving the gifts and partially because they love seeing their friends.

“I bet you we know most of the people here,” Tomisser said. “They’re our family.”