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SMOKY MOUNTAIN TOY RUN

Achieving success in any fund raising effort is satisfying for those who participate.  Seeing and being a part of an activity that has grown and flourished by a determined group of volunteers for decades--that's triumphant.  Since 1996, the Smoky Mountain Chapter of the Harley Owner’s Group has been vigilant in providing many volunteers every year who desire to see this project routinely succeed.  It is through sheer determination, that our members’ have seen this event grow to attract more and more support from other fellow motorcyclists, local businesses and local charitable organizations.

It is activities such as this one, that the Smoky Mountain Chapter’s Leadership offers its members as an opportunity to become an integral part of the local community.  To gain a greater understanding and appreciation of how this charitable activity has survived since 1981, I encourage you to read what one of our current members has recounted below.



HISTORY

by GARY AIKEN

It's Christmas Eve and the children are nestled in their beds anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus.  You've tried to explain for several weeks that money is short, only enough to buy groceries, and pay the rent. Excuses for not having enough money for gifts abound but the children are undaunted, "Santa won't forget us," they keep saying.  The stress keeps building and you wonder if there is ever going to be relief, and now you're about to disappoint your precious children on that most special day, Christmas.  What more could go wrong?

 For years this drama was played out throughout Buncombe County.  There just wasn't enough assistance to go around for those who needed help.  They say that the Lord works in mysterious ways but who would have thought that he would take a bunch of rough looking bikers, dress them in black leather and use them as a tool to provide happiness at Christmas time?

 As Christmas approaches, so too does the annual Smoky Mountain Toy Run, and I can think of no better time to give you a little history of how this wonderful event has evolved through the years.  It all began innocently enough during a period in time when if you rode a motorcycle you were coined a member of the "Hell's Angels" or some other evil biker gang.  On Halloween night, 1981, friends Dane Stevens, Jerry Slagle, Rick Watson and Phillip Trantham ended up at the home of Margie Stevens.  There they found themselves lamenting the bad reputation that anyone who rode a motorcycle often endured and how they needed to change that perception.  Margie Stevens had always been one to speak her mind and without hesitation she challenged this small group of Toy Run pioneers to make a difference.  After recovering from the shock of Margie's blunt words they each agreed that it was time to make a difference. Jerry Slagle recalled an article in Chopper Magazine describing a California Toy Run that had stretched for 14 miles, and immediately the group was intrigued.  Time was short and much needed to be done. The first poster was a hand written 8½ x 11 sheet of paper announcing the date, time and other necessary information.

 On December 20, 1981, 12 bikes and about 30 people met at the Executive Club on US Hwy 70 in Swannanoa for the first Toy Run.  The weather was a balmy 20 degrees as this hardy group of elves packed up and headed to Santa Pal Headquarters bearing gifts and money.  The success of the first year energized the founders of the Toy Run and they immediately set out to involve more helpers to insure the growth of the event.

 Their rallying cry became, "For Americans Who Need - From Americans Who Care."  Ideas for improving the turnout and insuring the success of the event were coming from every corner.  Volunteers produced the posters, and an impromptu group met in October to plan the event; everything from the starting point to the destination, who would be in charge of the road guards, food, prizes, and so on.  Every year it all came together and the Run began to grow. The 1982 Toy Run had 85 motorcycles and 100 riders and although it rained in 1983 they still had 55 motorcycles and almost 100 riders. Suddenly bikers in Buncombe County were being seen in a new light.  People lined Hwy 70 to witness the parade, articles were being written in local newspapers, and television stations covered the event showing bikers making a positive impact in our community.  More importantly these bikers experienced the joy of knowing that for one day in the year they set aside their differences and joined together for a common cause which brought joy and happiness for needy children throughout Buncombe County.  It didn't matter what brand of motorcycle you rode, or what group you were affiliated with, only that you cared enough to participate and give.

 My first Toy Run came in 1985 and it is still hard to describe the exhilaration I felt being in the parade and knowing that I was making a small contribution toward making a child happy at Christmas.

 As a single parent it also gave me the opportunity to show my children that helping others in need will always be important.  The years that followed are a blur, but as long as I had a motorcycle I always looked forward to this event and the emotions it generated.  I was as proud then as I am now to be known as a biker!

 In May of 1987 the annual Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade found new friends when Gene and Brenda Lummus opened Gene Lummus Harley-Davidson in Swannanoa.  I don't think it was coincidence that the 1987 Toy Run had its largest turn out to date, 300 motorcycles providing 2,000 toys for needy children.

 Gene not only participated in the Toy Run but he openly expressed his desire to help it grow.  Through his business connections he was able to obtain television and radio coverage that the Toy Run had never seen before.  His respect for those who pioneered the idea for the original Toy Run enabled him to forge alliances which increased sponsor participation and helped to maintain and grow participation in successive years.

 For 15 years the Toy Run was operated by a loose knit group of volunteers, all with the same mission in mind, HELPING THOSE IN NEED.  In 1996 the Smoky Mountain Chapter of the Harley Owner's Group began the daunting task of organizing, planning and implementing the former Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade, now the Smoky Mountain Toy Run.  Their success in growing the number of participants is a testament to their hard work, and their abilities to forge new friendships with sponsors and other motorcycle groups. And like those early Toy Run pioneers they continue to remember that the Toy Run is; "For Americans Who Need - From Americans Who Care."

 As we celebrate this wonderful annual event, my hope is that we never forget the reasons why it began.  It was never about one individual or any one group; it is about giving because we can, not because we have too.  It is the one time during the year we can come together with a common goal and in the spirit of the season.

 Together we can make a difference and why every motorcyclist needs to ride in and support the Smoky Mountain Toy Run!

Gary

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