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Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Toy Run - Christmas in Gold Country

Harley Trike decorated for Christmas
The procession begins at noon and ends at the Nevada County Fairgrounds in Grass Valley. If you’re lucky you might even see Santa on vintage Harley with a giant Teddy Bear in the sidecar. The route is lined with throngs of parents and children cheering them on.

2011 marked the 20th annual Nevada County Food and Toy Run. It took place on December 10th. California State Senator Doug La Malfa presented a Senate resolution to to the CEO and founder of the group Thom Stacer to commemorate the anniversary.


For Stacer the Toy Run is a fulfillment of a personal dream. He saw a need for such an event as a youth when mines and mills in the area would close during the winter. Now, with a dedicated group of volunteers, he works all year planning for the annual pilgrimage. The nonprofit group works closely with law enforcement who provide traffic control for the procession. 

In past years many riders have thrown candy to eager children on the sidewalks, but organizers and law enforcement have asked that this be discontinued for fear a child might run into the street after candy and be injured. Some participants have a hard time giving up this popular tradition, so it is an ongoing effort to get the practice entirely stopped. 

Once they arrive at the fairgrounds the toys are taken to the main exhibit building and handed in to volunteers who lovingly arrange them on tables grouped by appropriate age range. Then the lucky children are let in to make their selections. 
   The socializing continues with vendors selling food and crafts. Speakers fill the audience in on all the new developments, amount of money raised, any problems or concerns law enforcement has with the run, and new procedures under consideration. The presentation concludes with the raffle. Prizes for the raffle are items donated by sponsors, usually they include lots of motorcycle accessories and some years the grand prize is a new Harley Davidson. As the Winter sun goes down and the temperature drops many of the attendees go on to celebrate at other local venues into the evening. 

What began in 1991 with a small group of about 90 local bikers donating food and toys to local needy families has grown into a treasured tradition that draws as many as 1500 riders who come from from all over the state and beyond.
Lots of participants say they prefer the Nevada County Food and Toy Run to larger toy runs, like the Sacramento Toy Run, because of the small town feel the local involvement and the more intimate contact with the recipients as they actually get to see the people who benefit from their efforts. All proceeds are kept within Nevada County. 

Of course there have been a few problems and complaints over the years. Traffic on the main thoroughfare between Nevada City and Grass Valley is stopped for an hour while the bikes wind their way along the 3 mile stretch, so some unprepared travelers who were caught unaware are kept sitting at intersections until all the bikes have gone by. Most people are able to take it in stride and appreciate the good works being done, and efforts are being made to warn the public in advance that the roads will be closed during that time so they can plan accordingly. 

Area merchants were at first apprehensive of large groups of bikers going past their businesses at this, most busy, time of year. In fact, for this reason, for the first few years the procession was routed around the area of downtown Grass Valley. But business owners have come to appreciate the fact that the toy run attracts many people to the downtown area. They come to watch the spectacle, then stay and patronize local shops and restaurants. 

No matter what the weather the toy run goes on. Even in 2009, through driving rain, a few hardy souls made the ride. Only 250 rode in the procession that year, but many showed up at the fairgrounds in cars and trucks bringing donations. 150 turkeys, 150 hams, 300 ten-pound bags of potatoes, and many bags of groceries were given away. No child went away empty handed.

The Nevada County Food and Toy Run is a tradition that exemplifies the true meaning of the season. It stresses good will towards man, and the importance of caring for others. It give us an opportunity to set aside the commercialism of modern Christmas. This is not to say that it isn’t a whole lot of fun for those involved. 

I expect that the Nevada County Food and Toy Run will continue to grow in size and popularity for years to come.

Residents of the normal foothills town of Nevada City know Christmas coming when they hear the massive rumble of motorcycle engines making their way down Broad Street.

On the second Saturday in December, participants begin gathering at the Eric W. Rood Administration Center at 9:00 am. There they greet old friends, check out the motorcycles and socialize. Most are riding Harleys, but any make of motorcycle is welcome. Each rider brings a toy, many also bring food items and make cash donations. Coffee, hot cider and donuts are provided. T-shirts and raffle tickets are available for purchase.