ELLIS COUNTY — In December 1984, the first Ellis County Toy Run was held by a loose-knit group of bikers from multiple clubs and independent riders. The year before, several of them had ridden in a toy run benefiting a large children’s home in Dallas. They were touched by the interaction between the children and the bikers who brought toys and decided they wanted to do something like that in Ellis County, which is approximately 30 miles south of Dallas.
The first few years, the bikers ran into several obstacles, but each time they learned. Each time, they revised the plan until the event began to take shape.
In 1988, several of those original friends that started the toy run became the founding members of the newly chartered club — Gryphons MC of Ellis County. Today, two of those founding members are still active in the club. The Ellis County Toy Run is and always has been the most important event of the year for Gryphons MC, and the club is quick to point out that the toy run is not the Gryphons’ toy run as it is often called.
Gryphons MC is honored to “present” the Ellis County Toy Run, and that is an honor. As far as any boasting by Gryphons, they like to say that the Ellis County Toy Run may not be the biggest, but it is the best toy run in Texas.
Those original members of Gryphons MC who started the Ellis County Toy Run say that the secret to the run’s success and longevity is the ability to learn from mistakes and make appropriate changes when needed. Also, over the years, a vast network connecting so many volunteers from the communities in the county has evolved.
Several other MCs, riding associations, charity organizations, municipal governments, local small businesses and major manufacturers in Ellis County have all contributed and volunteered to do the hard work necessary to make the toy run a success.
Every year on the second Sunday in December, the motorcycles line up in downtown Midlothian with the streets barricaded, turning downtown into a virtual parking lot for the toy run. Men and women are wearing BACA patches direct riders to park in columns and go to the sign-in table to register for the ride. While others, wearing Christian Motorcycle Association patches, are busy serving coffee and doughnuts at the hospitality trailers they provided while a Christian band entertains the crowd.
As 11 a.m. approaches, announcements are made instructing riders about the ride. Police and emergency responders from Midlothian and Ellis County Sheriff’s Department begin setting up along the route leading out of town. A few minutes before 11 a.m., there is a blessing of the bikes and riders, and then the rumble of motorcycles begins.
At 11 a.m., the sounds of sirens join the rumble of bikes as the police escort leads the parade column through Midlothian. Every parking lot is filled with children and families waving at Santa as he leads the column perched on the back of a big Harley trike, smiling and waving. The parade that averages close to a thousand bikes eventually makes its way out of town onto Highway 287 where the traffic headed east has been stopped so the column can be escorted across Ellis County through the cities of Waxahachie and Ennis to a large civic center east of Ennis, known as Sokol Hall.
Along the way, police and emergency responders from Waxahachie and Ennis join the escort, blocking every intersection and entrance ramp to the highway, making sure that no traffic interferes with the parade as it travels across the county. Once the column begins to roll in Midlothian, it never stops along the route of nearly 30 miles until members of the Wolverines MC outside of Sokol Hall are directing the riders to park. Once there, the riders are led into the hall where nearly 3,000 donated hot dogs, cold drinks, chips and cookies are waiting.
Admission to the hall is one unwrapped gift and five dollars, per person. Inside the building, children who were invited by Ellis County’s Health and Human Services Office are waiting for Santa. Bubba, who has been the Toy Run Santa for over 25 years, takes his place in Santa’s chair where he meets all the children.
Meanwhile, members of the Christian Motorcycle Association, Bikers for Christ, Guardians of the Children and other organizations are busy toting toys to the toy corral and serving refreshments. One by one Santa’s Helpers escort the children through the corral where they get to select several toys — and, maybe, there is even a bicycle for the older ones. Eventually, all of the children have been through, and the hall is transformed to entertain the “big” kids. Every year bands volunteer to play for the toy run, while there are also raffles giving away donated items and a live auction that raises money for the toy run beneficiaries.
At the end of the day, there is usually a surplus of toys and money to be dealt with. Over the years, Gryphons MC has come up with unique ways to distribute both. Leading up to the toy run, local Headstart programs, and other children’s organizations submit “wish lists.” Families that are in need are identified, toys are sorted and lists filled, and any surplus toys are donated to other toy drives in the area.
With the generous donations of money that come in from the people and businesses in the area, combined with the admission fees from over 1,000 people, as not only bikers participate, the toy run generate a lot of money. The money is tallied up and presented to one of three Senior Citizen Activity Centers. There is a rotation every two years of activities centers from Midlothian, Waxahachie and Ennis, each of which receives an average of $15,000.
Seven years ago during the 25th annual toy run, approximately $25,000 were raised.
A little advice from those original Gryphons that started this event, “Make sure that everyone who comes to the toy run enjoys themselves. There has to be absolute transparency in the handling of money and being good stewards in the use of that money. The principle of doing this event totally by donations requires earning and maintaining the trust of the community that supports the event. You have to enlist all of the help you can get because you simply cannot do it by yourselves!”
The 32 annual Ellis County Toy Run was Sunday, Dec. 11.
This article was prepared by Professor, Dirty Doug and Bob.