Salvation Army Toy Run keeps on rolling

32 years after its debut, annual drive still helping needy children

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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Vic Voltz put more than 100,000 miles on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle over the years, riding around the western United State and Canada.

Voltz was the chaplain for a Harley owners’ group throughout the West and Canada, and helped put together other Christian riding groups.

“He always liked bikes, but he’s always loved people,” said his youngest son, Dan Voltz.

In that vein, Vic started the Salvation Army Toy Run motorcycle ride in 1983 to gather toys for local children in need.

“And then it grew and grew. I mean, we’ve had ice and show and sunshine,” Dan said. “One of the things that we always talk about is once the ride starts, we always have good weather.”

Dan and his brothers, with the help from the biker clubs that have been participating for years, organize the ride now, he said.

Vic has dementia, and the sons hoped to get him on back of a Volkswagen three-wheel motorcycle so he could ride along, but it was too much to try this year, Dan said.

“The toy run is like our highlight for the year, but he does so much more than that,” Dan said of his father.

There’s no way to count how many biker weddings Vic has presided over, Dan said, and whenever riders in the area would get hurt, or if they had a family member in the hospital, his dad would often be the first person they’d call.

“He’d be at the hospital in a heartbeat, to go in there and pray with them. He’s just got that giving heart,” Dan said.

As it has for many years, the ride started at Columbia Harley-Davidson Motorcycles at Northeast Highway 99 and Northeast 102nd Avenue. When it started 32 years ago, the ride ended at a Salvation Army building, but as more riders began coming out, they had to expand, Dan said.

This year the ride ended at Living Hope Church of Andresen Road, and about 150-175 riders were there at the end of the line for chili and corn bread served by Salvation Army volunteers.

The ride’s gone that way for three decades, and the biker groups largely have it on auto-pilot by now, Dan said.

There were some hiccups this year, though. The sheriff’s office, which usually provides and escort for the riders, opted out this year. That’s too bad, Dan said, but the riders for the toy run tend to find a way.

“There’s guys here that will — they will ride whether it’s ice and snow on the ground, it doesn’t matter,” Dan said. “They’re really committed to this.”

One of the ride’s strengths has always been it’s broad appeal.

Look around any year and you’ll see riders with back patches for riders affiliated with multiple Christian groups, law enforcement, other clubs and “people who don’t want to show their patches,” he said, laughing.

You’ll also see different kinds of bikes, from high-performance imports to three-wheel models. Plenty of other participants just catch up at the end in their cars.

“People just want to be a part of it, whether they ride or not.”

Steve Rusk, director of development with the Salvation Army locally, said the toy drive is a tremendous boost to the organization’s efforts helping needy kids and families during Christmas time.

Rusk said the ride has typically helped around 750 families every season.

Having been held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for more than 30 years, it’s also become the unofficial kickoff to the season’s many toy drives, he said.

“Not only that, they generate a lot of enthusiasm among Salvation Army Staff and Volunteers, and that in turn really helps prompt others to give,” he said.

The visibility of the ride helps too; people see the dozens of bikes, learn what’s going on and decide they’d like to kick in some cash or donate a toy as well.

“It’s not unusual for people from the streets, who observe the motorcade of cyclists, to do just that,” Rusk said. “To bring toys to us, saying we say the motorcycles and we wanted to give too.”