IT’S the heart-string puller of the Latrobe Valley; the Gippsland’s Motorcyclists Toy Run – a community group that has dedicated 25 years to helping the Salvation Army and Saint Vincent’s get toys to less fortunate children and give them a Christmas they will cherish.

On Australia Day, the group was awarded Latrobe City’s Community Event of the Year award, and leading volunteers Alf and Stella Vella were awarded the region’s Citizens of the Year award.

The Vella’s said they were honoured to have even been nominated when the Express interviewed the community-minded couple a few weeks ago.

“We don’t seek this sort of thing,” Alf said.

“We are one little thing in a huge structure … we’re not a registered charity. We are just a couple of people getting the community together to do some good.

“Everything that we do, every single cent we get, every toy we get, we take a picture of somebody giving it to us, give it a little bit of a story, whack it on Facebook.

“I’m just representing a large amount of people. It’s what the community has done.”

The Gippsland Motorcyclists Toy Run is one of the biggest toy gatherers in Latrobe Valley, according to Alf.

Alf and Stella travel around Gippsland urging communities and businesses to donate funds or toys to help provide hope for disadvantaged children around the holidays.

In a colossal effort the Vella’s managed to amass $72,000 worth of toys and $76,000 in donations in 2023.

“This year, we put the word out that people are more desperate than ever,” he said.

The Vella’s asked people if they could ‘dig a little bit deeper’ – and that they did!

Due to the rain, the Toy Run had to swap out most of the motorbikes for cars to ensure the safety of road users.

In past years, the Toy Run would have around 300 bikes.

“We only had 50 because it was so wet. So, we gathered up all the toys before Toy Run Day and handed them to the Salvos and St Vinnies before Toy Run Day, and anybody who came along on Toy Run Day added an extra gift,” Stella said.

“It’s the icing on the cake. We get together as a bike group and start at Nefertiti Court in Traralgon. We go the backway through Glengarry and Tyers, Yallourn North, to Erica. Erica’s township just opens up to us. It is wonderful,” she added.

Mission: The Gippsland Motorcyclists Toy Run was awarded the Community event of the Year Award, while organisers Alf and Stella Vella received Citizen of the Year honours. Photograph supplied

Alf said the Toy Run was now ingrained into Latrobe Valley Living with major businesses and industries on board to donate each year, including the power stations, Hip Pocket Workwear, the bowling clubs, Lions Clubs, bike clubs, the Opal Australia paper mill, and more.

Most businesses donate money towards toys but each contribution is special. For example, Hip Pocket Workwear also donates a valuable commodity in clothing to the Toy Run, and the Moe trophy shop donates trophies to award the best motorcyclists of the year.

“We got $15,000 worth of toys from Hip Pocket Workwear, who bought boots and clothing as well as toys. One of the biggest fashion items for kids these days is safety boots,” Alf said.

“We got 60 pairs from Hip Pocket Workwear. They got us some last year. Salvos and Vinnies said kids love them. They are just walking around like fashion items. They give us lots of toys as well. Lots of sports clothing.”

According to Alf, the community is quite enthusiastic about the Toy Run every year and is more than happy to help.

Waiting: Toy Run motorcycles ready to roar. Photograph supplied

The Vella’s said they publicly praise donations online in order to help promote local business generosity.

“It’s advertising (for) them and encouraging people to shop locally. That’s what the toy run is about. It’s a feel-good thing,” Alf said.

Humbled people, the Vella’s credited the Toy Run’s success to the community.

“Stella and I are right in the middle of it … we are not the Toy Run – hundreds of people and companies around us, they are the Toy Run,” Alf said.

“We just drag it all together and make people feel good about it because we write nice things about them on the Facebook page.

“The enthusiasm gets passed on to other people.”

But of course, what the Gippsland Motorcyclist Toy Run really comes down to is bringing Christmas to all.

“I just imagine every Christmas morning, 2000 kids get presents because of what we did. It makes your own Christmas dinner taste all the much better, “Alf said.

No chance of slowing down, Alf and Stella will stick around to ensure the Toy Run keeps providing kids with Christmas.

“I want to keep doing it until I’m 100 (years-old). I want to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Toy Run,” Alf said.

Upon accepting the award on Australia Day the Vella’s were extremely grateful.

“We are so proud to be a part of a fraternity of people who have dedicated themselves to making sure that no kid in the Neighbourhood misses out on a good Christmas,” Alf said.

“Thank you very much for the honour. Stella and I both really appreciate it.”

In an ode to their community-minded spirits, as they concluded their acceptance speech, Alf and Stella told the crowd that planning for the 2024 Toy Run was already underway and urged people to help those in need again this year.