Unseasonably warm weather and perhaps the biggest turnout yet marked Ricky “Big Bird” Holcomb’s 20th annual Toy Run to benefit Christmas Cheer on Saturday.
Officials estimated that 350 or so vehicles (mostly motorcycles but also some classic cars) participated, and 327 of them completed the Toy Run.
The value of toys and monetary donations had not been totaled Saturday afternoon, but it easily could be $10,000, about like last year, predicted Pam Allen, executive director of Christmas Cheer. She was wearing a Santa Claus suit.
The Toy Run left Big Bird’s Big Twins on U.S. 220 south in Ridgeway at 1 p.m., traveled on U.S. 220 to Martinsville, and went to uptown Martinsville. It continued on Commonwealth Boulevard, U.S. 220 north through Collinsville, on to downtown Bassett, on Virginia 57 and then back through Collinsville, finishing at Sportlanes.
“Big Bird” Holcomb and his wife, Paige, who together organized the event, led the pack of participants on their motorcycle. Each participant donated $10 or a toy of equal value, and some of the motorcyclists carried toys during the ride.
“Times are tough right now. We really are pleased to see everybody giving so generously,” Paige said.
She said Big Bird “has a soft spot in his heart for children” and can’t bear to see a child in need. He added: “I enjoy Christmas. I like helping people.”
Paige said that for health reasons, Big Bird has had to scale back on the motorcycle rides that he organized for local causes for years, and now he focuses on the Toy Run. Big Bird suffered a major stroke in Jan. 30, 2010, according to reports.
“I can’t do what I used to do,” Big Bird said Saturday.
He indicated he was pleased with this year’s Toy Run. “It’s become a hell of an event.”
The Toy Run was held in memory of Paige’s uncle, Robert D. “Uncle Doug” Wall, who died in 2010, and in honor of her parents, Eddie and Becky Conner, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this month, she said.
Henry County Supervisor Joe Bryant, who represents the Collinsville District, rode a motorcycle in part of the Toy Run. It was a “good ride, good turnout,” he said.
Another rider, Harlie Harris of Martinsville, said: “I’ve been doing it, I don’t know how long, probably 10 or 15 years. I enjoy doing it. I enjoy supporting Big Bird. I think it’s a great cause.”
C.W. Harris of Martinsville said he’s been riding in the Toy Run since he retired from the Navy SEALs in 1996. He said he does it for the “camaraderie ... and to do some good for children.”
Allen said the Toy Run and the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots are two of the biggest contributors to Christmas Cheer, which will provide toys to close to 400 children. It also will provide food boxes and blankets to 850 households.
To make a donation, write Christmas Cheer at P.O. Box 540, Martinsville, Va. 24114 or bring it by Piedmont Arts at 215 Starling Ave., Allen said.