In 2014, retired Marine and El Cajon HOG member Mike Harris decided to make a difference, so he convinced fellow HOG members to join him on a ride from El Cajon Harley-Davidson to the Miramar National Cemetery to pay their respects, and then on to the Marine Corps Reserve Center to donate toys to the
San Diego Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program.
The need is staggering: toys for 70,000 children every year.
From the first 30 bikes in 2014, the event has grown each year.
2017 was a watershed year, when the event partnered with the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for the first time. Beginning with El Cajon Harley-Davidson opening three hours early to accommodate registration, which included at least one new unwrapped toy per person. For this, participants enjoyed a free breakfast and a back county ride to the Del Mar Race Track.
(The first 250 registrants received a special commemorative challenge coin).
In 2017, hundreds of toys and $8,600 were donated to the San Diego Toys for Tots program.
2018 was even more successful, donating 1,200 toys and $17,500 to the San Diego Toys for Tots Program
In 2019, the first concerted effort to include car clubs was a success. Hundreds of motorcycles and over 75 Jeeps and cars rolled to the Del Mar Racetrack. The highlight of this effort was the first time participation by the San Diego Jeep Club, which showed up en masse, complete with a trailer full of toys and a large check for the Marines. Based on the experience, they are now a partner in this event.
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club was decked out with Toys for Tots banners, welcoming the riders, car clubs, and all patrons to the track. They also provided special road access and free parking for the motorcycles and car clubs; free track entry to anyone (not just motorcyclists or car club members) with the donation of (at least) one new, unwrapped toy; exclusive use of the Corona Beach House patio; space for and motorcycle displays in the Plaza de Mexico; free grandstand seating; and a special horse race -- The Del Mar Toys for Tots Ride -- in honor of Toys for Tots.
The riders enjoyed a wonderful pre-event breakfast at El Cajon Harley-Davidson.
Local radio personality Clint August provided Motorcycle Monkey Coffee for the riders.
The El Cajon Police Department assisted in traffic control for the safe departure of the event from El Cajon Harley-Davidson.
Heartland Fire and Rescue provided fire apparatus to hoist the American flag over the street, under which the motorcycles rolled at the start.
The United States Marine Corps Reserves 4th Tank Battalion and 4th Medical Battalion participated in the event, with a display of tactical vehicles and uniformed Marines and sailors manning the track gates to collect toys.
The 1st Marine Division Band entertained the crowd with patriot music.
Senior Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, 4th Tank Battalion, and 4th Medical Battalion participated in a pre-race “Riders Up” call out in the paddock.
The event leader Mike Harris, President of San Diego Jeep Club, and senior Marines participated with Del Mar Thoroughbred Club representative Sheryl Kerstiens, the winning horse owner, trainer, and jockey in a Winners Circle presentation after the special Del Mar Toys for Tots Ride Horse Race.
Supporting the event’s opportunity drawing, over 50 businesses and individuals from across the nation donated more than 350 in-kind items, including USMC T-shirts, NASCAR race tickets, SDSU football tickets, artwork from nationally renowned artists, gift baskets, meals, two RinseKits, accommodations at a Las Vegas resort hotel, meals, a Go-Pro camera, a night at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel, Pulstar sparkplugs, and even teddy bears dressed in Marine Corps Dress Blues.
Thanks to coin sponsor El Cajon Harley-Davidson and breakfast co-sponsors Lloyd's Collision and Paint and El Cajon Elks, 100% of all cash collected was donated to the San Diego Toys for Tots Program.
The results were stellar in 2019, donating a record 3,942 toys and more than $18,500 to the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots Program in San Diego.
2020 brought the 7th San Diego Annual Toys for Tots Event, the largest one-day Toys for Tots event in the region. In spite of COVID-19 restrictions, the event collected and donated $21,335 (a new record) and 2,043 toys, 100% of which were given to the U. S. Marine Corps Reserves 4th Medical Battalion for the San Diego Toys for Tots Program. With the continuing support of the San Diego Fairgrounds and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, our team adapted the event design to comply with existing restrictions.
Unlike previous years when the event was held coincident with a day of horse racing at the track, for 2020 it was a RIDE BY, DRIVE BY, and DROP OFF collection effort in the main parking lot of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Folks from across the county arrived by motorcycle or vehicle, entered the parking lot, followed directions to the drop off point, handed off toy and monetary donations to the uniformed Marines and sailors from 4th Medical Battalion, then immediately departed. Dozens of volunteers, including Young Marines, were on hand assisting in the safe and orderly traffic flow and ensuring the event went off safely without any problems.
One large contingent of motorcycles departed from El Cajon Harley-Davidson with El Cajon Police Department motorcycle escort and a sendoff by fire apparatus from Heartland Fire and Rescue. For the second year, our partner the San Diego Jeep Club staged dozens of vehicles at Fiesta Island before heading to the Fairgrounds. Throughout, other motorcycles groups and car clubs, including North County Corvette Club, came out to help make Christmas better for needy children in San Diego. The constant flow of motorcycles and vehicles kept everyone busy accepting the donations, with hundreds of bikes and scores of vehicles rolling past the donation drop off point.
When all was said and done, a new record for monetary donations was realized due to the generosity of individuals, not corporations, from across the region. COVID did not stop us from supporting the kids. The event continues growing and we already have our eyes set on next year.