Saturday, Sept. 19 will mark the 31st time that more than a thousand motorcyclists from all over the Pacific Northwest will ride into Port Alberni.
It’s all got Port Alberni Toy Run chair David Wiwchar pretty excited.
“The thing about Toy Run is all the people that line the parade route,” Wiwchar said.
“You don’t see that anywhere else.”
Even big cities don’t support their riders like Port Alberni does, he said.
“You go to the Toy Run in Vancouver and you may have more bikes but people are honking at you in a negative way and making rude gestures because you’re blocking traffic for a few minutes.”
That’s not the case here.
“It’s the exact opposite,” he said.
“People are lining the streets, holding up signs thanking the riders… it’s so cool to see every weekend.”
“It’s all volunteer and the third weekend in September is Toy Run weekend. It’s Vancouver Island’s largest motorcycle event,”said Wiwchar.
“It’s also the biggest charity event in the Alberni Valley and every cent goes to kids.”
“This is the 31st year and if we get good weather we should get similar numbers to last year at 1,400 bikes,” said Wiwchar.
An avid rider for close to 30 years, he got involved with the Toy Run about a decade ago.
“I rode in it for quite a few years and enjoyed it, I thought it was a great local charity event,” said Wiwchar.
“I really appreciated the event and the support that the event had and got involved because I wanted to get involved too.”
He liked it enough to become Toy Run chair four years ago.
“It was a just a progression. I was involved for a few years before being elected vice-chair and was vice-chair for a few years before getting elected chair.”
Wiwchar has made a goal of getting more support from the business community.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot more buy in from the business community and showing them the importance of this event economically to the city and to the families of the city… I think it’s a great thing for businesses to get involved with,” he said.
“They just needed to be shown what an amazing event it is and they came on board.”
At the end of the day, Toy Run will give around $30,000 in cash and $80,000 worth of toys to “pretty much every children’s charity and family event that happens in Port Alberni throughout the whole year,” said Wiwchar.
“Pretty much every public parks and recreation program like the movie night, Winter Wonderland, Halloween swims, Easter Bunny Express, Our Town.”
Once in a while, the money raised during Toy Runs allows the society to finance a large project.
“We have a legacy fund and we’d been looking for something that we could do,” said Wiwchar.
“We usually put $3,000–5,000 into it every year and when it gets to a certain point or certain ideas come to us we’ll invest it then.”
When the West Coast General Hospital came to the Toy Run with an idea last year, Wiwchar said they were happy to work with the hospital again.
“We’d worked with them to put the playhouse in the lobby area at the hospital,” he said.
“So they came to us with the idea of restoring pediatric dental services to Port Alberni.”
The Toy Run was able to donate $20,000 to the cause.
“We put $20,000 into it to buy specialized x-ray equipment and equipment needed to do dental surgery on kids.”
The toys collected during the ride every year are just as appreciated as the money.
“The Salvation Army takes the lions’ share for their Christmas programs and we also give a large amount to the Bread of Life, we give to the transition houses.”
They’re also trying something new.
“New last year, we’re taking the medium-sized stuffed animals and putting Toy Run ribbons on them and giving them to all the emergency service providers—ambulance, fire police—for them to give to children who are affected during the time of an emergency and maybe need a distraction,” said Wiwchar.
“So they give them a stuffie to take their minds off of what’s going on around them.”
The benefits of Toy Run weekend extend out to the whole community.
“Every hotel and restaurant in this town is packed,” added Wiwchar.