Without the Bikers of Northwest Ohio Toy Run, Artisha Smith says, Christmas wouldn’t happen for her family.
The day would come, but her kids wouldn’t have presents to open, and they wouldn’t get to meet Santa Claus like they did on Sunday afternoon at Harbor, a local mental health agency. The Toy Run, an annual event by the Bikers of Northwest Ohio, includes a presentation of toys to some of Harbor’s children in need as well as a celebration and fundraiser at Toledo Speedway. Sunday marked the event’s 30th year.
“I’m just smiling,” Ms. Smith said as she watched her children tear open their gifts: Lego sets, a baby doll, hats and gloves, and more.
Karen Anderson, children’s therapist for Harbor, echoed Ms. Smith and said for the families who have participated in the event, it makes a difference between having Christmas or not.
“Oh, it’s huge for the families,” she said. “It really starts the holiday season off well.”
Nearly 700 bikers showed up for the ride, said Michael “Big Mike” Wenzel, the event’s organizer. About 100 bikers blocked intersections along the route from the Toledo Speedway to Harbor, and the rest rode into Harbor’s parking lot on 13th Street, with Santa Claus in a sidecar on one of the leading motorcycles.
As they rode in, Ms. Smith’s children, My’Yonna Lewis, 10, Darrell Jackson, 5, Tarrell Slay, 3, and Dy’Yonna Jackson, 2, waved and shouted at the bikers. Members of several local and regional biker clubs participate in the event every year, Mr. Wenzel said.
Massive stuffed animals rode on the backs of some motorcycles — each of the children got to take one and the rest will be auctioned off by Harbor to raise money for its programs.
The Bikers of Northwest Ohio have partnered with Harbor for the Toy Run for about the past 15 years, Mr. Wenzel said. Before that, the group donated toys and money to various other service organizations in Lucas County.
“Kids are our future, and a whole lot of them don’t really have a whole lot,” Mr. Wenzel said.
The event always takes place on the first Sunday in November, and Mr. Wenzel emphasized that everyone is welcome, not just bikers. During the event, anyone can come to the celebration at Toledo Speedway and eat food, listen to live music, or make a donation.
When the Toy Run first began, Mr. Wenzel said it happened in December, and the first ride had about 40 bikers participate. The event slowly moved up in the season through the years, to take advantage of typically warmer weather and encourage greater participation.
But even when it’s cold or raining, bikers still come out, he said.
“It’s worth doing for the kids,” he said.