By Denis Droppa and Dave Abrahams
Johannesburg, Cape Town and everywhere bikers gather – South Africa’s (and in fact Africa’s) biggest motorcycling event revved into charity mode on Sunday when Toy Runs took place all around the country.
The 33rd running of this annual feel-good event collected vast heaps of toys from more than 24 runs across Southern Africa - toys that will go to underprivileged children who might otherwise go without a gift this Christmas.
The Gauteng Toy Run - held in perfect conditions, a welcome contrast to last year’s rain - was again the biggest; nearly 24 000 toys were handed in at the end venue, Benoni Northerns Sports Grounds.
The Johannesburg run has become so big that there were four separate starting points: Irene Village Mall in the north, The Blockhouse 1-Stop in the south, Carnival City Casino on the East Rand, and Silverstar Casino in the west. Tens of thousands of bikers, their machines brightly festooned with the customary teddies and other toys, made a stirring spectacle as the mass rides made their way towards Benoni Northerns.
After handing in their toys the participants tucked into breakfast and browsed the flea market, while there were also rock bands and a beer garden to provide the time-honoured biker entertainment.
Convenor Pete Beart noted with pleasure that there had been a noticeable increase in the number of educational toys and gifts of stationary, something the Gauteng Toy Run committee had been asking for over the past few years. There were, however, still huge numbers of teddy bears and other soft toys only suitable for very young children – which was understandable, he said, given that the teddy bear has always been the symbol of the Toy Run.
The residents of Benoni - who could be forgiven some annoyance at having their quiet suburb taken over and their roads shut down by tens of thousands of noisy motorcycles, have instead taken this annual invasion to heart. Hundreds lined the streets leading to the end venue to wave to the Toy Runners as the four mass rides converged and hundreds more walked in through the gates in family groups, bringing black bags bulging with toys to be emptied into the waiting trucks.
The thousands of bikers who turned out for the 33rd Toy Run, hosted by the Italian Motorcycle Owners Club at the William Herbert Sports Ground in Wynberg, rode everything from battered little scooters to the latest gleaming sports and touring machinery. Many sported mainstream club patches – and just as many did not.
In addition to the two official mass rides – one of more than 4000 motorcycles and a new one from Tokai with at least another thousand – many clubs and associations, including the Bikers Church in Brackenfell, organised their own mass rides to the end venue.
But they had all one thing in common - their motorcycles were festooned with toys – teddy bears, hula hoops, cricket set, fire engines and Barbie dolls – and the first thing each rider did on arrival at the end venue was to go along and empty his bag of toys (because very few riders brought just one toy!) into one of two five-ton trucks provided for the purpose by Nampak
All the toys donated to the Cape Town Toy Run will be distributed to hundreds of institutions all around the Western Cape over the next three weeks by convener Rodney Ford and his band of unlikely elves – all volunteers. The 2014 Toy Run generated in excess of 28 000 toys (the auditors insist on an accurate count!) and the same two trucks were more full this year, earlier in the day, than they were then.
Nevertheless, Ford says there are always more requests for toys than he can meet - from huge faith-based institutions to grass-roots day-care centres where the only thing in adequate supply is love.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he says. “There are never enough to go round.”
Possibly the most heart-warming aspect of the 2015 Toy Run, however, was the number of younger riders who said that they had first attended the Toy Run years before as pillions on their parents’ bikes. For these second-generation Toy Runners there is simply no other place to be on the last Sunday in November; they would as soon miss Christmas itself.
The Durban Toy Run was described by convenor Jo Boes as “simply awesome, probably the best we’ve ever had!” More than 6000 riders turned out for the mass ride – but the Durban Toy Run has become bigger than a biker event.
For more than a week before the event there were calls coming in from members of the public wanting to bring toys to the end venue and from car clubs and service organisations wanting to take part.
Toys R Us had donated a large number of toys; one of its directors - a member of the Porsche Club – had arranged with the committee to run a Porsche, branded with the Toys R Us logo, immediately behind the official lead car – and on the day he pitched with 22 gleaming Porsches, each resplendent in Toys R Us logos and Toy Run branding.
In addition to the riders and pillions on the more than 6000 motorcycle that took part, about 30 000 members of the public arrived at the end venue, Lords and Legends in Amanzimtoti. Even after the organisers had met all their toy commitments and were busy packing up, people were still arriving with toys, which will de distributed during the next week
All the Toy Run memorabilia – badges and T-shirts - was sold out on the day; Boes said that for 2016 he intended to take the word ‘motorcycle’ out of the official name of the event. While there will always be a mass ride and a place of pride for the riders at the end venue, he insists, the Toy Run now belongs to all the people of Durban, not just those who ride motorcycles.
More than 2500 riders took part in the mass ride from the Hunters Retreat Hotel to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for the 24th Port Elizabeth Toy Run, where about 1300 riders joined in the party, highlight of which was a raffle draw for a 125cc Honda scooter, with helmet and gloves thrown in, to the value of R21 000.
Second prize was a R10 000 shopping voucher from Pick n Pay Hypermarket and third prize a weekend at Blanco Guest Resort for two adults and two children. The raffle raised R153 000 which, given that the tickets were only R5 each lends some perspective to the enthusiasm and effort put in by the Port Elizabeth Toy Runners.
The beneficiaries this year were the ACVV, Kamvelethu, Care Ministry, Mission Vale School, Piet Retief Primary School, Thand’usana, the Walmer Angels and Sebenza Embroidery through Radio Algoa FM and the CSIR.
About 200 motorcycles attended the inaugural Overberg Toy Run – organised at short notice in little more than a month.
They started in small groups from Hermanus, Caledon, Bredasdorp and Gansbaai, converging on the end venue at Stanford, where there was live music, beer from Birkenhead food stall and wine from South Africa’s newest wine route – which had opened just two days before.
In typical Overberg fashion, when asked how many toys were donated, convenor Karl van Zyl replied, “Two boatloads!”
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