It was December 19, 1981, 12 bikes and about 30 people met at the Executive Club on US Hwy 70 in Swannanoa for the first Toy Run. The weather was a balmy 20 degrees as this hardy group of elves packed up and headed to Santa Pal Headquarters bearing gifts and money. This small band of Toy Run pioneers operated each succeeding year under the rallying cry, "For Americans Who Need - From Americans Who Care." Ideas flowed and every year the Toy Run grew in participation. The original name of the Toy Run was; “Toys for Tots Motorcycle Run” and like today, was solely operated by volunteers.
The 1982 Toy Run had 85 motorcycles and 100 riders. It rained in 1983, but even in the rain, 55 motorcycles participated with almost 100 riders and passengers. People lined Hwy 70 to witness the parade. A tradition that remains to this day. Local newspapers wrote stories about these leather clad elves, and television stations showed bikers having a positive impact in our community. More importantly these bikers experienced the joy of knowing that for one day in the year they set aside their differences and joined together for a common cause which brought joy and happiness for needy children throughout Buncombe County. It didn't matter what brand of motorcycle you rode, or what group you were affiliated with, only that you cared enough to participate and give.
For years many Toy Run participants thought that Gene Lummus, the local Harley-Davidson dealer, started the Toy Run. The fact is that Gene and Brenda didn’t open their dealership until 1986. The following year the annual Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade found a friend when Gene ask to join forces with the organizers and put the considerable weight of his dealership behind the effort of growing participation. I don't think it was coincidence that the 1987 Toy Run had its largest turn out to date, 300 motorcycles providing 2,000 toys for needy children.
Gene’s commitment was to help the Toy Run grow while keeping it in the hands of those that came up with the original idea. Through his business connections he was able to obtain television and radio coverage that the Toy Run had never seen before. His respect for those who pioneered the idea for the original Toy Run enabled him to forge alliances which increased sponsor participation and helped to maintain and grow participation in successive years. It didn’t take long for law enforcement agencies in our community to jump in and participate, intersections were now blocked by law enforcement and police escorted the motorcycles from Swannanoa to Asheville.
For the first 15 years the Toy Run operated through a loose knit group of volunteers, all with the same mission in mind, “FOR THE KIDS.” In 1996 the Smoky Mountain Chapter of the Harley Owners Group made the commitment to become a primary sponsor and to begin the daunting task of helping organize, plan and implement the former Toys for Tots Motorcycle Parade. Together, the Toy Run founders, Gene Lummus and the Smoky Mountain HOG Chapter presided over some of the largest Toy Run’s Buncombe County ever witnessed.
Through the years the name of the Toy Run has evolved from the original name to the present; “Smoky Mountain Toy Run” because of a copyright conflict with the Marine Corp Toys for Tots program. Today the Toy Run operates under a corporate charter and all proceeds benefit Eblen Charities Saint Nicholas Project. The officers of the corporation work throughout the year, hand in hand with individuals and organizations, to insure the success of the event year after year.