"We help about 600 kids each year," said Layne Philbern, a principal organizer of the 29th Annual Central Kansas Toys for Tots Run. A poker run, with about 80 motorcycle riders involved, began at 10 a.m. Saturday at All Things Chopped, 2400 Main, Great Bend. Participants gather toys and some funds, too, for children from Wilson to Stafford County to La Crosse, etc., in Central Kansas. Philbern, a Great Bend resident until about three weeks ago, now hails from Chanute. His wife and daughter registered participants in the Poker Run Saturday morning.
The riders also hope to be able to give a "tidy sum" to Sunflower Diversified Services or another organization that works with kids, each year after the run.
"Hard work by everyone, and sponsorships" make the event a success each year, Philbern said. The 30th annual event, a year from now, should be very big, he said. Individual or business sponsors have their names printed on the backs of T-shirts worn by all participants.
The Poker Run was to end at 2 p.m., and a parade, with perhaps 200-some bikes, was to be held on Main Street in Great Bend at 3 p.m. An appreciation party was set to begin after the parade. The average number of "bikes" in the parade, year to year, is 135, but the total has been 200 on some occasions. Stops along the run today included Mom’s Bar and Grill in Seward, the Sidewinders Motorcycle Clubhouse in Ellinwood, the Odin Bar and Grill and the VFW Post Home in Hoisington.
The last card for the Poker Run was to be drawn at the American Legion Post Home in Great Bend. The winner gets to keep half of the cash prize, with the other half going to Central Kansas Toys for Tots, Philbern said.
Volunteers, mostly the bikers and their wives or "significant others," will gift-wrap and deliver the toys collected, in December. Also, there are toy collection boxes in place at Wal-Mart in Great Bend, Dollar Stores and other sites.
Saturday’s event was put together by The Men MC (Motorcycle Club), of which Philbern is a member, Kansas Sidewinders MC and American Legion Riders of Post 180, Great Bend.
Philbern said these clubs often help out other area toy runs. "Sometimes they may fall short of toys and/or money." The Central Kansas run always goes well, he said.
There were riders from as far away as the Colby area taking part in Saturday’s altruistic fun.