Note: This story was first published in Forsyth County News, a partner publication to Dawson County News.
Buck Jones started his first toy run in Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties 31 years ago, bringing together about six other bikers to drive to local charities to donate toys and gift cards for children in need for the holidays.
And as the toy run continued over the years, hundreds started to participate, riding in the cold with the former Cumming Police Chief each November to make sure kids in the community got the Christmas they deserved.
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Don Parkinson, Jones’ longtime friend and former owner of Biker’s Dream, remembers one year when Jones used leftover donated funds to help a family in Cumming who had been struggling for the last six months because the father couldn’t work while healing his broken leg.
“Buck grabbed the guy …. and said, ‘Okay, come on,’” Parkinson said. “He took him and they paid the electric payment, they made the rent payment. He ensured that money went where it needed to be.”
Jones also made sure the kids had toys to open and a meal to eat come Christmas day.
“That is kind of the essence of what the whole Buck Jones Toy Run had been,” Parkinson said.
When Jones died 12 years ago, Parkinson took over the event to continue that spirit of giving and Jones’ legacy in the community, renaming the event the Buck Jones Memorial Toy Run.
Parkinson said the event has had its ups and downs since then, but in the past year, he and his team have made strides to grow the Buck Jones Charity Foundation and involve the community in fundraising year-round to make the 31st annual toy run on Sunday, Nov. 20, the best yet.
How to get involved
The 31st annual Buck Jones Memorial Toy Run will begin this year at the Cumming Fairgrounds before participants ride on to Veterans Memorial Park in Dawsonville and then to Lumpkin County High School in Dahlonega.
Last year, Parkinson said 315 motorcycles and 50 Jeeps took part in the parade through the different counties, and he expects an even higher turnout this November.
To participate in the ride, the foundation asks each person to bring toys, gift cards or cash for each of the three stops.
But Paras is encouraging everyone in the community to participate in whatever way they can. If some can’t donate, they can volunteer at one of the locations where donated food, raffles and games will be set up for riders and other attendees.
Business owners can also donate $150 to set up booths at one of the locations to promote their business or set up a toy drop box at their shop or restaurant to collect donations to bring to the event.
“Everybody wants to help out a kid,” Paras said. “Nobody ever wants to see a kid go without anything, so people are more than willing to help out when they see they can.”
Registration for the event begins at 11 a.m. before the ride starts at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Cumming Fairgrounds. Those interested in participating or donating before the event can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Checks for monetary donations can also be made out to Buck Jones Charity Foundation, Inc. at 4870 Haysboro Way, Cumming, GA 30040.
A year of giving
Much of that growth started last year when Steve Paras, Vice President of Special Events for Harley-Davidson, joined to help better organize the foundation.
One of his first decisions with other organizers was to officially make the Buck Jones Foundation a 501(c)(3) nonprofit registered with the IRS. He said that registration was an important step in cementing Jones’ legacy in north Georgia while hosting other charity events and finding new sponsorships.
Locals and businesses can now write large donations off on their taxes, and the foundation is hosting more events such as golf tournaments and bike nights where they have more opportunities to give to the foundation year-round.
Paras said the toy run already has one sponsor who has pledged to give $11,400 this year toward one of four new sponsorship categories.
“We’re coming out of the gate way better than we did last year because we didn’t have anything,” Paras said. “Sponsorship-wise already, we’ve tripled what we did.”
The organizers also started officially tracking how much the community was donating to the foundation in toys, gift cards and cash last year, finding they raised $33,400 in total. Now, they are using that as a marker to set this year’s fundraising goal of $50,000.
Paras said that organization and fundraising will help them toward their overall goal going forward — giving support to as many kids in the community as possible.
Not ‘just Christmas gifts’
All of the toys and money raised through the toy run goes to three local nonprofits: The Place of Forsyth County, KARE for Kids in Dawson and the Lumpkin County Division of Family and Children Services.
Paras and Parkinson both said each item donated to kids these nonprofits serve has a real impact on them and their families.
“I grew up in foster homes, so I know what these kids are going through,” Paras said. “I know what it’s like to not have Thanksgiving or Christmas or birthdays and those kinds of things.”
The Place uses toy run donations to help stock the shelves of their Holiday House, filling the building with bicycles, Barbie dolls and baseball bats. Then, parents who may not otherwise be able to afford holiday gifts for their kids can come in and shop using points allotted for each of their children.
The program allows parents to pick out their own gifts and give kids a holiday to remember.
“It seems like, ‘Oh, it’s just Christmas gifts,’ but the fact that [the kids] can go back to school and say, ‘Look, I got these new shoes,’ or ‘I got a bike,’” said Joni Smith, President and CEO of The Place. “They don’t have to know that you donated it. They just know that, with their family and custom, they were able to have a wonderful holiday.”
Parkinson stressed how important it is to also donate $10 gift cards during this year’s toy run for DFCS and parents to be able to buy gifts for their older kids.
“A lot of foster kids are not 4-7 years old,” Parkinson said. “They are 12, 13 and 14, so they’re needs are way different at Christmas than little kids’ are.”
Paras said many foster children also mostly need money to buy necessities like clothing and toiletries.
Parkinson asked a child one year what he needed most for the holidays to see how they could help with donations.
“Underwear,” he remembers the boy saying. “A new pair of underwear.”
The community donated more than $6,000 in gift cards last year through the toy run, and the foundation hopes to collect even more this year.
“The toys are great, and they will always have those toys,” Paras said. “No kid should go through a holiday season without toys. But those gift cards are huge, and they can last all year long.”