Motorcycle Toy Run Unites Hundreds of Bikers in Spirit of Giving
From one year to the next, the weather may vary, or the turnout, or the route, but the mission and spirit of the annual Motorcycle Toy Run remain the same: to make the holidays brighter for families in need.
This year’s run, the “lucky” 13th annual, got unlucky with a cold, rainy day for its originally scheduled date, Oct. 7, and was postponed to the following Sunday, Oct. 14, which was sunny and temperate, ideal for a long scenic ride. Due to conflicts with other bike runs in the region, the date change resulted in a lower turnout than usual – 460 motorcycles, compared to the typical 800-plus – but more than 1,000 toys were collected for the cause.
All the other components of the event were fully intact, from the giant American flag billowing from the tops of two Stafford Township Volunteer Fire Co. ladder trucks, to the bond among riders across lines of generations, cultures and bike styles, to the shared feeling of being a part of something meaningful, something greater than the sum of its parts.
Sunday morning, the bikes assembled in the parking lot of Southern Regional High School, where riders registered, milled around, enjoyed coffee and snacks, secured their gear, made final trips to the restroom, where few could help some good-natured joking about the long line outside the men’s room while the ladies freely came and went (“This is how we feel all the time!” she might say. “Yeah, only we’re not bitching and moaning about it,” he might retort) and prepared to embark on a 65-mile journey.
The bikes ranged from sporty and nimble to luxurious and plush; riders more accustomed to longer rides were easy to spot in the crowd, with their sheepskin seat covers and spacious saddle bags for road trip supplies. Elaborate custom paint jobs and jacket and helmet embellishments help individual riders put their unique stamp on the event.
One standout in the lot was 4-year-old Logan Transue of Galloway, on his electric motorcycle complete with training wheels. He cruised around charming everyone with his sweet little tough-guy image, even offering a ride to a passenger about his size. At 4, Transue is already a Toy Run veteran, having participated the last three years in a row, his jacket patches identifying him as both a “wild child” and “Nana’s riding buddy.”
“He’s a motorcycle kid,” his mom, Dominique, said.
“Nana” is Annamarie Sesta, who works in special education at Southern Regional and last year founded the Chrome Angelz, an all-women riding club. Normally Logan would ride on the back of her Honda Valkyrie, but this day he would ride with his grandfather instead. Nana’s passenger seat was reserved for Santa Claus, whom she would chauffer at the front of the pack. Along with Santa – a.k.a. Thomas Bearson of Whiting – Sesta’s ever-faithful riding companion was her Chinese Crested Chihuahua, Foxy, whose custom denim coat bore her name and a pair of angel wings, befitting the Chrome Angelz club mascot.
While “knowing you’re giving back” was Sesta’s favorite aspect of the Toy Run, another of her objectives for the day was to recruit new members for Chrome Angelz. With humanitarianism at the heart of its mission, the club regularly visits the elderly, the ill and the disabled in order to share the joy of riding with those who can’t experience it for themselves.
All engines were silenced while Monsignor Ken Tuzeneu from St. Mary’s Catholic Parish delivered a blessing, the color guard presented the flags, and a small vocal ensemble of Select Choir members – Sam Foster, Sarah Gambacorta, Amanda Kessler and Jessica Doyle – sang the National Anthem.
When event organizer Dennis Jarin gave the signal, the bikes all roared to life at once, filling the air with the sound of horsepower and the smell of gasoline, and then filed out of the lot one row at a time.
Two by two in staggered formation, the bikes exited the school parking lot and proceeded down Route 9 to Route 72 and headed west out to the Route 70 circle, where the line wrapped around and folded back on itself, a mass of motorcycles moving as one, as wide as the highway. As riders did their best to stay close together, yet mindful of each other’s space, the rate of speed fluctuated between 30 and 50 miles per hour. All told, the ride was about two hours of sensory saturation, of fresh autumn air and togetherness, of natural beauty and butt-numbing vibration.
County Route 563 led the ride through Chatsworth, past the Lee Brothers cranberry farms, the Hedger House and Wading Pines canoe and kayak outfitter, and eventually connected with Route 9 to take everyone back to St. Mary’s Parish Center on McKinley Avenue in Manahawkin for entertainment and refreshment, to share observations from the ride and sympathy for each other’s wind-chilled fingers and sore rear ends.
The run was accompanied by a strong complement of police motorcycles and cruisers, representing numerous local departments and the State Police, who led the ride and controlled traffic flow at intersections. If motorists were inconvenienced by having to wait and allow 460 motorcycles to pass by, none showed it. Instead, they pulled out their smartphones and shot video of the spectacle. Along the way, many more bystanders lined the roadways through Manahawkin, Chatsworth, Bass River and Tuckerton, offering friendly grins and waves, peace signs and cheers of support and admiration.
Back at the parish center, over a hot lunch prepared and served by Toy Run Foundation staff and volunteers, Santa and Mrs. Claus (Bearson and Joan Potts of Joannie Productions) chatted about the day’s underlying themes, of giving and of celebrating the spirit of Christmas. For Bearson, who has embodied Santa Claus since 1969 (“I proposed to my wife wearing the suit,” he said), the role comes with great responsibility to uphold the true character and image of the beloved figure.
As Potts tells all the Santas who work for her, regarding their conduct while wearing the costume: “You have elves, reindeer and Mrs. Claus. That’s it.” They should also exhibit proper grammar and a high moral standard, she explained. Her enterprise is about far more than business, she said; it’s about keeping the magic and wonder in the Christmas season.
“You’ve got to do it from your heart,” Bearson said – and, if possible, with an authentic white beard, which he has grown and worn since 1994.
Closer to Christmastime, the Toy Run Foundation, founded by the Jarin family of Manahawkin, will set up a distribution center inside St. Mary’s Parish Center to make the toys available to families in Southern Ocean County. It extends additional holiday cheer to kids through the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, Operation Santa Claus at Fort Dix and Community Medical Center in Toms River, and does other work to help the community throughout the year by raising money for college scholarships.