Staser steers Toy Run to success

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Around 1,500 motorcyclists expected to ride for others on Dec. 8

Stacy Drake Nevada City Advocate  


At noon on Saturday, Dec. 8, approximately 1,500 plus motorcycles from California, Nevada and Oregon will start their engines for the 27th Annual Nevada County Food and Toy Run. 


The riders are staged at the Rood Center in Nevada City, proceeding down Broad Street to Sacramento/Zion Streets onto Grass Valley Highway, through the round-a-bout onto Main Street, up Mill Street to the Fairgrounds in Grass Valley, with an estimated 10,000-13,000 people cheering them on along the way. When they arrive at the Fairgrounds, the riders are met by hundreds of local area families in need of food and toys for the holiday season. 


The event is organized and coordinated with the Nevada City and Grass Valley Police and Fire Departments, the Nevada County Sherriff’s office and the California Highway Patrol by Thom Staser of Nevada City, who has been organizing the event since its inception in 1991. 


“A buddy asked me 27 years ago if I was going to the Sacramento Toy Run again that year, and I said, ‘no, I think we can do that here in Nevada County.’ ’’ 


“My buddy agreed. So that first year, we had six weeks to prepare and we managed to round up 90 bikes,” Staser said. “Within a couple years we were up to 800 bikes. 


“The Nevada County Food and Toy Run is now one of the most popular toy runs in the state and bikes come from all over to participate,” he added. What makes this event so appealing? “We have the reputation as being the safest Toy Run, in part, because we have the full support of local law enforcement and they are present every step of the way to be sure the motorcycles stay in tight formation and control traffic, which is key to rider safety.


“Any excess food and toys are given to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Volunteer Department headed by retired Cpl. Walt Jones. They go into the North San Juan Ridge area and the little town of Washington to hand out food and toys to needy families. We keep it all in Nevada County,” Staser said. 


Staser works with Head Start, Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, the Nevada County Department of Social Services; they coordinate with families that need community support that year. 


“Because substance abuse can be an issue with many of the families in some form or another, there is never any alcohol or marijuana or other drugs allowed at the Rood Center or the Fairgrounds,” he said. “We need to respect the families and children who are in this situation. Plus, it’s a motorcycle event; there’s no room for that if you’re riding a motorcycle with 1,500 other bikes and riders for obvious safety reasons.” 


In 2011, the Nevada County Food and Toy Run was recognized by the United States Congress and the state of California for 20 years of on-going service to families in the communities of Nevada City and Grass Valley and to Nevada County at large by way of a 4th Senatorial District Proclamation signed by state Senator Doug LaMalfa and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition signed by Congressman Tom McClintock.


“We don’t charge to participate in this event,” Staser said. “Through years of polling participants, we understand that the average amount of money riders personally spend on food and toys is over $200 per person. Many tell me they spend that much because they just love shopping for the families and some of them have been recipients of this type of anonymous generosity in the past and they want to give back. This event is so successful because, in the end, people aren’t just opening their pocketbooks, they are opening their hearts in a big way and I won’t charge for that.”


Raising money to produce the event is a year-long job for Staser, who drums up $250 donations from sponsors, designs the annual T-shirt and ride pin, which are for sale in advance or at the staging area at the Rood Center. Post-ride festivities at the Fairgrounds include food vendors, music and raffles. Many community members and law enforcement officials volunteer their time to accept the toys and food and manage the distribution to the hundreds of families in attendance. 


“When I’m at the Fairgrounds, I spend my time mingling with the people and taking in the whole scope of what we have accomplished. At that point I’m finished, but the next day I start tallying the receipts, the day after that I start paying bills and the day after that … I start on the next year’s event.” 


For more information about the Nevada County Food and Toy Run, visit toyrun.org or email at thom@toyrun.org. Donations of toys and non-perishable foods and frozen turkeys and canned hams can be made at the Fairgrounds on Dec. 8. Park in the front of the Fairgrounds, not where the bikes are in lot 4. Cash donations can be made year-round at the toyrun.org.


About the photos: 

Thom Staser, the organizer and producer of the Nevada County Food and Toy Run, in this year’s commemorative t-shirt

Photo by Stacy Drake


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A rider’s perspective heading down Broad Street in Nevada City in 2017.

Photo by Stacy Drake