This year's Verde Valley Toy Run is a surprising success, according to event emcee Jeff Thomas, husband of event coordinator Rose Ortiz. The annual event provides toys for needy families at Christmas.
"It was really good," said Thomas. "The weather was really nice." He said this year's warmer weather was a big improvement over last year's bitterly cold weather.
Thomas said this year's run – the 17th Annual Verde Valley Toy Run – had approximately 460 bikers participating, with the Loners Motorcycle Club having the largest group.
"We raised (approximately) $14,000," he said. "And we fed about 650 people."
"It probably was the biggest toy run ever," Thomas said, regarding the local annual charity event. "Although we raised a little less money than we did a couple of years ago."
However, with all the current world events, the results were much better than expected, he added.
Camille Severson raised approximately $1,100 and received the award for the highest sponsorship, raising the most money for the toy run, Thomas said. She received a special commemorative toy run T-shirt as an award, he said.
Thomas identified Camille Severson as the wife of Dave Severson, new commander of American Legion Post 25 in Cottonwood and a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War.
"Many of the motorcycle guys are veterans," added Thomas.
Ortiz – event coordinator the past two years and owner of Rose's Food Service – said more than $8,000 was generated from the run last year. Approximately 300 bikers rode in the run last year.
And last year, in addition to the toys, volunteers even purchased sleeping bags, coats and other necessities for needy children in the Verde Valley.
The toys and other items each year are donated to and distributed by local agencies, such as Catholic Social Services and Verde Valley Healthy Families.
More than 500 supporters came out last year to cheer bikers on, and Ortiz said community members don't have to ride to participate.
"It's a sight to see," she said. "We would love to see the community out waving at us."
Participants, whether riders or supporters, get a T-shirt, a party, and a chance to receive door prizes, said Ortiz. To participate, a $15 minimum sponsorship is required, as well as a new, unwrapped toy.
Cathy Peterson, director of Catholic Social Services in Cottonwood, said she has seen more families doing without this season.
"The whole world crisis has impacted so many families," she said. "Many have been laid off, and giving them some of the basics is particularly important now."
This year's ride began at the Fry's Food & Drug Stores parking lot, at Arizona 89 and 260 in Cottonwood.
Bikers traveled along Arizona 89A through West Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek. They christened the new Beaver Flats cutaway to Cornville and returned to the Verde Valley Fairgrounds in Cottonwood.
At the fairgrounds, participants enjoyed live music by Danny Rhodes, a barbecue beef dinner, and a chance to win or bid on World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks memorabilia.
D'backs items included a team jersey and a bat autographed by left fielder Luis Gonzalez. Thomas said the bat autographed by Gonzalez was auctioned for $700.
Mark Shoultz, owner of Sedona Motorcycles, said, "It's incredible to be in the middle of the pack, thundering down the road. As far as you can see, there are bikers; it's awesome – it looks like a rock concert."
Ken Nevills, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, said earlier that he would be participating in this year's toy run, on his Harley Davidson. The toy run was an important part of his plans for the Veterans Day weekend, he said, which included celebrating the Marine Corps birthday at American Legion Post 25 in Cottonwood.
"(The toy run) is a good cause. Come on out and join us," said Nevills.
(Reporter Paul Blankenship also contributed to this story.)