What could have been mistaken for rumbling thunder on an overcast and dreary day became perfectly clear when the hundreds of motorcycle riders participating in the 23rd annual Ellis County Toy Run pulled up into the parking lot of Sokol Activity Center on Sunday morning.

The Gryphon Motorcycle Club of Midlothian, which sponsors the toy run, has been collecting toys and funds for families and charities countywide since October - and members were happy to see the many families that showed up to take advantage of their generosity.

“Our toy run is unique because we actually get to see for ourselves the kids that benefit from our efforts,” said Eric Floyd, club president. “It is very rewarding for us to not only help these families but to watch the kids when they get to pick out their own toys, that is what I think makes our toy run special.”

The families in attendance for the one-of-a-kind afternoon with Santa were by invitation only from the Department of Health and Human Services, which helped qualify participants to take part in the toy giveaway.

“We rely on the DHS office to let us know how many people they will be giving invitations to so they can come to the event and we handle the rest,” Floyd said. “We appreciate their efforts to make sure that the people that need the help most are the families we get to see. It allows us to get past the paperwork and focus on the most important thing - making sure the kids have toys for Christmas.”

Families on hand - who are not being identified because of privacy issues - expressed their appreciation for the event and efforts of the biker club.

“This is my first year to participate in the program and it is just a blessing,” one woman said. “I am a single mom with five kids and with what I make, things were going to be tight this year but since the kids were able to get their toys from Santa and his helpers, I can focus on buying clothes and things they need. Everyone has been very great to my family and I am thankful to the club for everything my kids received.”

Another woman said she was happy to see her kids get so excited about seeing Santa.

“They have been waiting for him to get here for a little while now and they are very excited,” she said. “They were told they were allowed to pick out their own toys and they went crazy. This is a wonderful event and we are very happy to be part of it.”

Despite the crowd that gathered to sit on Santa's lap and receive presents, there were leftover gifts that will be sorted and gathered to help other charities throughout the county.

“We have always been given more gifts then needed for the families that show the day of the run and we make sure that the generosity of the businesses and individuals throughout the county doesn’t go to waste,” club member Terry McVay said. “The leftover toys are taken to the home of one of our members where we sort them and deliver them to other groups in the county that need help. We have been doing this for so long that most county agencies send us a list of what they need and we try to match the toys with their requests.”

In addition to toys, the club received cash donations and raffled off items to raise funds that will be presented to the Midlothian Senior Citizens Center.

“We pick a local charity that needs help and we raise funds for them for two years then we choose another agency to help. This year the money will go back to Midlothian with us but we have helped agencies from every city in the county over the years,” Floyd said.

Even though the group has only been collecting toys for the run since October, members have been planning the run all year.

“We work hard as a group all year long to make sure that the one day that people see is successful but it takes all of us to pull it off,” Floyd said. “This run is really a family affair with families throughout the county reaping the benefits of the efforts of our family and the many local businesses and individuals that allow us to do what we do. We are happy to do our part and we look forward to next year.”