In 30 years, Luie Philbern has seen things that have made Santa cry.
Like the year he and fellow members of The Men MC carried a box of toys and a bag of potatoes to a poor family’s home for Christmas. A young boy ran to greet them, and excitedly grabbed the bag of potatoes – ignoring the toys.
Another year, members of the motorcycle club placed toys under a drawing of a Christmas tree that a mother had taped to the living room wall. "She couldn’t afford a real tree," Philbern explained. Members of the club soon found one, and returned to the house a second time.
Every year, as members of the club deliver some of the hundreds of toys collected during their Central Kansas Toys for Tots Run, they encounter at least one family that truly tugs at their hearts. Sometimes the families they help come back as volunteers when their own situations improve, Philbern said.
Club members and associates gathered Saturday at the American Legion in Great Bend, to sort and wrap this year’s gifts. The Salvation Army screens the applicants. Salvation Army Director Jane Berg said last year 450 children received toys.
The Toy Run is always held the third Saturday in October, and this year was the 30th one, Philbern said. It started in Hays, where the club was located in 1982. Both The Men MC of central Kansas and their Toy Run moved to Great Bend in 1985. On Saturday the club also recognized the three people who have attended all 30 runs: Philbern, and Tom and Marie Drewel.
Philbern said they’ve never collected fewer than 300 toys, and in recent years the number has topped 600, so he estimates more than 12,000 toys have been given away over the years.