Santa Claus is the generous, jolly and merry figure that many children look to for gifts during the holiday season. They would never expect a large, tall, stoic and tattooed man to be under the red suit. But under their rough exterior, the motorcyclists who participate in the Bakersfield Toy Run find fulfillment in seeing children from struggling families light up when they experience a brief moment of bliss.
For the last 35 years, Bakersfield Toy Run Inc. has delivered toys, canned food and monetary donations to the Bakersfield Salvation Army. The event on Dec. 8 ensures that every family selected by the Salvation Army has enough toys, food, cash and other necessities to alleviate the stress of financial setbacks during the holiday season.
Though it started small, in recent years the event has attracted 4,000 to 6,000 bikers in a single day, making it Kern County’s largest motorcycle event, according to board member Ben Patten.
To put into perspective how many motorcyclists are on the streets of Bakersfield at one time, Patten said: “We’ll start on Beach Park. … The first bikes will be pulling into the (Kern County Fairgrounds) as the last bikes are pulling out of the park.”
Such a huge spectacle is a sight to see. Every year, community members line the streets of the event route to take in all of the sights and sounds that accompany 6,000 motorcycles being in one place at one time. The magnitude of the event has helped raise a substantial amount of money for the Salvation Army and it all goes back to the people in need in the Bakersfield community.
Patten says that the biker community helps out the less fortunate for the right reasons and they do not look for recognition. In fact, they avoid the spotlight.
According to a participant who would only identify himself as “Santa Claus,” “We give the Salvation Army … around $30,000 and also enough toys to give each child three toys. Last year was 280 families.”
The event’s participation has been so substantial because of Bakersfield’s willingness to give.
With sponsors like Walmart, Sam’s Club and Target donating thousands of dollars in a single year and single households donating whatever they can, receiving parents do not have to worry about giving their kids the holiday experience they deserve.
Patten has witnessed this community’s generosity firsthand.
“This community steps up. When somebody has a need, they step up. I’ve seen it from personal experience. My son lost his home in the Camp Fire last year. This community stepped up and helped my kid out,” he said.
Now Patten is doing what he can to pay that kindness forward.
Patten and his fellow Toy Run participants may be intimidating and standoffish, but at the end of the day, they will do anything to make sure families experience the excitement and happiness of the holidays that they would otherwise miss due to their financial situations.
“These guys look like they do, they dress like they do, they ride the bikes that they ride. They’re loud, some of them leak oil, some of them are dirty. But when it comes to helping little kids, they step up on the second Sunday in December and have (been) for 36 years,” Patten said. ￼