Bikers from across central Arkansas collected and donated 615 toys for sick children during the 17th Annual Conway Regional Toy Run on Saturday.
Nearly one hundred bikers along with their family and friends rode from the Landers Toad Suck Harley Davidson dealership on Collier Drive to the east wing at Conway Regional Medical Center to drop off toys on Saturday.
"We're here to help the kids," Founder and Organizer Steve "Painter" Polk said. "All of these people are here to help the kids. The toys that we collect have to last the hospital all year and we have this one day to do it."
The Conway Regional Toy Run is an initiative that started in 2000 when Polk wanted to bring a gift to a child in the hospital.
Polk, a corporate aircraft painter who retired from Dassault Falcon Jet, had a friend whose child was in the hospital. When he asked the child where he played and if the hospital had any toys he was able to play with, Polk learned the hospital did not have the budget to buy the children toys.
Polk and four of his friends — Vicki and Ross Scalise and Mike and Roxanne Ford — banded together to form what became the hospital's inaugural toy run.
Conway Regional spokesman John Patton said the toys collected by the bikers are used to disperse among pediatric patients at the hospital throughout the year.
Since the toy run began 17 years, it has grown extensively. Staying at the hospital can be terrifying for young children, he said, and the toys provided by local bikers bring a calming factor to an otherwise scary and stressful situation.
"Steve gets all of the credit for this. He and a couple of his biker friends started it about 17 years ago," Patton said, recalling the inaugural run. "They just showed up and brought toys ... And it's just grown and grown since then."
Polk said he and his four friends went up to the hospital with a handful of toys and asked where they could drop them off 17 years ago. Since then, the collecting process has extended to several local biker groups along with other supporters.
"It's not just bikers," Polk said, noting several who donate show up just to support the cause and are not involved in the biker community. "We have some who follow behind us in cars. One lady who comes with us rode her scooter and upgraded to a bike this year."
The toys are distributed to multiple departments at Conway Regional including the emergency room, labor and deliver department and the pediatric units.
Each year, the hospital staff finds homes for the toys delivered during the toy run and is thankful for the time those who donate put into this event, Suzanne Harris, director of medical, surgical and specialty services, said.
"It's an overwhelming symbol of what Christmas means," she said. "It's not just Christmas, we use these [toys] throughout the whole year."
Critical Care and Cardiac Director Josie Acre said toys are dispersed between pediatric patients and their siblings, providing a calming atmosphere for the entire family.
"If someone comes into the emergency room and they need stitches or have a broken arm we can obtain a toy for them," she said. It helps keep them busy and is a calming factor in what seems like a very uncontrolled world."
Harris said that by keeping the children calm using the toys donated during the Conway Regional Toy Run, parents can be more relaxed and less stressed.
The toys are used for a variety of age ranges as well as types of patients.
"The baby dolls we use a lot for our older pediatric patients in critical care," Acre said. "They like to hold the babies. It calms them. Our psychiatric patients use the coloring books and puzzles to help keep them busy."
Polk said he will continue each year to collect toys for the children at Conway Regional.
"For me, this is my Christmas," he said. "I see people today that I only see once a year and us bikers, we're one big family. But, this isn't just a biker event. This is a whole community event. The more people I get, the more kids we help and that's what it's all about — helping the sick kids."
Michael "Derek" Jones of Sold Out Church said a group of the church's bikers attended Saturday's event for the fourth time since installing the Sold Out biker ministry.
"When we started the motorcycle ministry, this is exactly the type of stuff we wanted to get involved in," he said. "This one in particular, because this is our home city. Of course we want to reach people far from God, but also, we want to impact people's lives."
Jeff "JP" Paul of the Outsiders Motorcycle Club said he enjoyed the opportunity to give to the children of Conway Regional.
"The Outsiders will do anything we can for our community," he said.
Polk said toys can also be dropped off at the Toad Suck Harley Davidson dealership throughout the year to make it to next year's toy run.
"People can donate all year long," he said. "You can drop [toys] off at the dealership and let them know it's for the Conway hospital."