Crowds gathered throughout downtown Marion and downtown Hillsboro Saturday afternoon to watch 95 motorcycles and 17 classic cars make the journey to Vintage Bank in Hillsboro to drop off toys for the 30th annual Marion County Toy Run.
The Toy Run has become a major benefactor for the underprivileged children of Marion County.
It is sponsored by the Sons of the American Legion # 366 (SAL), ABATE of Kansas Dist. 9 and Route 56 Classic Cruisers. Each participant is asked to donate one new toy and canned food items as their entry fee. These toys as well as donations and money raised at a chili feed and auction held after the Toy Run are donated to community Christmas Trees, area Ministerial organizations and Marion County Food Bank as well as county children’s service organizations to provide a better holiday season for many kids of the county.
“It’s all donated and every bit of that money gets dispersed to a number of local places that provide for children,” said Legion Commander Josh Plenert.
The food is donated to the Marion County Food Bank.
While the totals are still being figured for this year, in the past 29 years, over $272,000 has been raised.
The event began at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 at Sher Bowl Lanes at 131 S. Thorp in Marion. After the train of motorcycles and cars dropped their donations off at Vintage Bank in Hillsboro, many headed over to the chili feed and auction at Hillsboro American Legion in Hillsboro. The items for the auction were also donated.
The day started out cold but thankfully warmed up for the event.
“It was cold until the sun came out. This was my first time doing one of these. I don’t think I would want to be much colder than this so I’m glad the sun finally came out,” said Reed Johnston.
Johnston, who lives west of McPherson, heard about the ride from some friends in Canton and decided he wanted to participate in the event.
“I enjoyed it. I think I will do it again,” said Johnston.
Unlike Johnston, Mike Buller, of Hillsboro, has been participating in the toy run for years—in fact, he has ridden a motorcycle in all 30 Marion County Toy Runs.
“The first year we did this, it was flat nasty out and just me and a guy from Tampa rode our bikes in it. Back then we only rode in Hillsboro so I didn’t have to go far, but that guy rode from Tampa and then had to ride all the way back. It was drizzly and like 33 degrees,” said Buller.
The event started when the McPherson ABATE of Kansas Dist. 9, a motorcycle group that is a nonprofit that works to promote and encourage safe motorcycling in the State of Kansas, approached the SAL in 1993 and asked if Marion County would sponsor a toy run. The group is no longer in McPherson but continues to do toy runs in Marion County and other counties.
After four or five years of the Marion County Toy Run, more bikers joined. Eventually, the group decided to move the starting point to Marion.
“This is a Marion County run so we thought we needed to start in Marion, and we’ve been doing that ever since,” said Buller. “Since we started going to Marion, I go to the back of the bunch and when you come over that bridge that’s coming out of Marion, you can see all the bikes lined up. Many years they are going up over the hill a mile and a half away.”
Buller said he never gets tired of doing it every year.
“It’s helping the kids. And it’s fun. You get to go out and ride and check out all the bikes. And then you get to come eat and hang out. So pretty sweet deal,” said Buller.
Organizer Mike Sechler, of Hillsboro, has also been involved with the event for all 30 years since it started in 1993.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s a good cause. You can help out the needy kids at Christmas time and throughout the year. It’s kind of in my blood. I keep getting up there in age. I’m 73, and I keep thinking I’m going to quit. But then kind of every year I just do it,” said Sechler.
In fact, he enjoys the event so much that he joins in other county toy runs as well.
“I usually do about five toy runs a year. They plan them on different weeks so we can all join in if we want,” said Sechler.
While many of the bikers were local, some of the bikers in the Marion County Toy Run came from all over the state.
“These guys go to all of them. And they bring a toy and they sit at the auction and they eat and they donate to every county,” said Plenert.
The men and women who ride seem to enjoy each other’s company as they laughed and visited with each other after the ride at the chili feed and auction.
Mike Klose said, “I just like the camaraderie of everybody getting together and having a good time.”
But mainly it seems like the participants are focused on the kids that the event helps.
“All of the riders just want to give to the kids. Even as they age, they’re still at it, because the main purpose of the whole thing is to give to the kids,” said SAL member Gary Andrews. “And same with the entire Legion family. They all help out. We had Legion members cooking chili, Auxiliary members cooking chili and all the people helping us clean up. Everyone is doing it all for the kids.”
Donations may still be sent to the Marion County Toy Run, c/o Hillsboro SAL # 366, 405 S. Floral Dr, Hillsboro, KS 67063 or contact one of the sponsoring organizations.