“I’ve been with the Salvation Army for 15 years, and so I’ve gotten to be a part of 15 years of the 43 years of toy runs, and for me it’s the highlight of the year, because not only do I get to see the compassion on a level like we’ve never seen throughout the year, but I also get to bring in a team that gets to witness this display of unconditional love. For us, it’s more than toys, it’s a statement to the community and beyond that kids matter, and they’re worth every second and penny we put into this thing,” said Ryan Ray, the developmental director at the Springfield Salvation Army.
The biker route will begin on Lake Road in Medway, and the procession will travel from there to the Clark County Fairgrounds, where the Salvation Army staff will meet the Highway Hikers for the cash and toy donation distributions.
“And then we’re gonna go home that night and sleep good, knowing that we done good for the awesome kids of Clark County,” said Seelig.
The bikers plan for months in advance for the event, with the goal of investing in the lives of local children. The event brings together hundreds of volunteers and families each year.
“The subplot of this is, what this does for the whole community, that they can see that there’s a lot of love here, and we know these kids and families will grow up and remember this. They’ll remember the love that was shown to them, and that can change you. In a world that seems like it lacks love, and even in a city that gets defined by what we don’t get right, this is one of those things we’ve gotten right,” said Ray.
The toys collected are then a part of the Salvation Army Christmas Campaign, to be distributed to families and children in the area. The vision of the project began in a small group of bikers years ago, who just wanted to make a positive impact.
“When a bunch of dirtbag bikers decided we didn’t want to be trash bags anymore, we decided to help. So we got together, my father, and many others, there were 17 of us there, and I was the youngest one, and we went to a local hospital to donate toys, and they literally locked the doors; we just wanted to donate toys,” said Seelig.
Eventually the gift of kindness was accepted by a family services worker named Betty Payton, who eventually helped bring the toy run to life over several years after joining the Salvation Army.
“She welcomed us with open arms, saying, ‘Those are my boys, they’ll get those kids their toys,’ ” said Seelig
The Hikers have seen the community come to their aid of toy collection, even after an incident of theft years ago.
“We actually more than doubled the toys in a day (being replaced), and when we put out the word to our people, saying that the toys were basically stolen from the kids, they came out and helped, and then we had two semi trailers of toys that year, it ended up being a great year,” he said.
This year, the Betty Payton Award will be awarded to her family, as she has passed on. Her surviving husband and children will receive the award as a tribute to her work.
The event not only impacts the children and families of the community, but also impacts those who volunteer.
“They say it’s changed their lives. They see that kind of compassion, and it just rocks you to your core. That is why we love being part of this,” said Ray.
Those who wish to participate can donate a brand-new toy, or $10 to fund the mission.
For more information, visit The Salvation Army Springfield page on Facebook.