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Making kids happy for Christmas

Families come together during the holidays, and each December for 37 years, the Southern Oregon family of motorcycle riders has gathered on a frosty morning to make sure Christmas is a time of joy for local children.

The annual Southern Oregon Toy Run will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, with a social hour at Touvelle Lodge, 9367 Table Rock Road, Central Point. Free doughnuts and coffee will be served. At noon, riders will travel southeast on Table Rock Road to deliver toys and gifts for children at Eagle’s Lodge No. 2093, 2000 Table Rock Road, Medford. Any street-legal motorcycle is welcome.

The mood is always festive as red-cheeked riders gather on bikes decorated with toys, Santa hats and Christmas ornaments. Riding two-by-two as they leave the Touvelle Lodge parking lot, revving motorcycles are lined up as far as the eye can see.

"Even after riding in this for 30 years, it’s still a thrill to head down the street with over 600 bikes,” says organizer Mark Daley, owner of Thunderstruck Custom Bikes in Medford. “And it just gets bigger every year.”

Spectators are always welcome, he says.

"We encourage people to stand along the route and support our riders, or if you want to be a part of the procession, we do ask that cars fall in behind the riders, because it’s dangerous to try to mix cars in with the bikes.”

Even if you’ve never had a hankering to throw your leg over the seat of a motorcycle, you don’t have to ride to take part, Daley says.

"This event is open to anyone, even if you don’t ride. Just bring a new, unwrapped toy or cash donation, and join us at the Eagle’s Lodge for lunch and dancing. We’ll have some great raffle prizes, a 50/50 drawing, event T-shirts and live music.”

Last year Daley took over the reins, ah, handlebars, as the lead organizer of the Toy Run, but he insists its success is directly related to the amount of support given by local sponsors and volunteers.

"I can’t say enough about the folks who step up every year to donate their time and money,” Daley says. “We have so many generous people in the community, too many to name, but I especially appreciate Mark and JR Lamensdorf, who own Star Body Works and Star 24-Hour Towing in Medford. They have partnered with me on so many events through the years, and they are huge community supporters. They take care of many of the details involved with events like this.”

By all accounts, last year’s Toy Run was an overwhelming success.

“We raised over $14,000 in cash, and the toys filled the room at the Eagle’s Lodge,” Daley says.

Many nonriders and local businesses helped out with generous donations of both toys and money.

The sorting, bagging and distribution of toys is a huge undertaking, Daley admits. That effort is shared by volunteers from the Eagle’s organization and kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs.

“We appreciate all the hard work that goes into organizing that much stuff. Because of them, we are able to help a whole list of local organizations,” he says.

Daley has loved motorcycles since he was a shaggy-haired teen and through the years has made a name for himself as a designer and builder of custom motorcycles. Feeling a responsibility to give back to the community, he has used his notoriety and connections to organize, sponsor and support many charitable causes around Southern Oregon.

"The local motorcycle community is a pretty close-knit group,” Daley notes. “They show up to support quite a few fundraising events during the summer, but I think the Toy Run is a favorite because it’s the last big ride of the year, and people know it makes a lot of kids happy for Christmas.”

Though last year was a success, Daley says, the need grows every year.

"I love knowing some less fortunate kids are going to have a visit from Santa this year instead of having nothing under the tree. This is a chance to have a little fun and do something nice for the kids who otherwise might not have a Christmas this year.”

Mark Daley of Thunderstruck Custom Bikes strikes a pose with gifts he'll deliver for children during the annual Southern Oregon Toy Run. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]