BURRILLVILLE – From the Mule Town Jeepers of Tennessee, to the Boondockers 4 X 4 Club of Pennsylvania, you can find them in every state in the country, and their numbers are growing.
Clubs of made up of Jeep owners have long existed – but in the past year they’ve made news for much more than just their off-roading excursions.
Amid virus fears that have kept many isolated, snow storms in areas ill-prepared for winter hazards and an economic fallout that has left charitable organizations struggling to keep up with need, Jeep clubs have stepped in to help.
“One of the first events I did was food collection for the hospital workers,” said Alana Ducharme, a Burrillville native and founding member of one of the newer clubs in the area, Jeep Life of the Northeast.
From charity runs, to providing rides to frontline workers following storms in the south, Jeep clubs have stepped up in the past year to help wherever there’s a need. It’s a phenomenon that Ducharme says has grown, in part, as a result of limitations on social interaction caused by COVID-19.
While others have been isolated at home, Jeepers, who have long been gathering from the safety of their individual vehicles, knew where they could find community – from behind a wheel.
“That really brought the Jeep community together,” Ducharme said of pandemic restrictions. “It was a way for people to get together and do rides and events together, while still social distancing and helping others.”
Locally, Jeep groups like 401 Jeep Wave have organized events such as the Burrillville Christmas parade, when more than 100 decorated vehicles spread cheer through town even as other holiday events were cancelled.
“That was fun,” said Ducharme, who was one of the many drivers that night, as Jeeps decked out with Christmas lights brought joy to an otherwise dull season.
A procession with over 250 Jeeps lined the streets of Warwick in January to pay tribute to a veteran who died in an off-road crash in Burrillville.
The members of Jeep Life of the Northeast met through other clubs and broke off officially in January. They now have 352 members.
“We wanted to create a family-like community for Jeepers to come together,” Ducharme said.
“The one thing we have in common is we all own Jeeps,” said co-founder Domenic Berardis. “It’s no different from any other groups that share a hobby.”
But the sheer numbers of participants and fans – especially through these past months of isolation – bring success to any charitable endeavor the Jeep club takes on.
“We always end up with people that will park and hang out for awhile,” said Berardis. “We kind of use that to our advantage.”
On Sunday, March 14, Jeep Life is holding a supply drive for the Burrillville Animal Shelter and expecting between 50 and 80 participants. The event will take place at the shelter at 131 Clear River Drive from 9 to 11 a.m. and anyone is welcome to stop by and donate supplies.
It will be the club’s second event in the area over a single weekend. On Saturday, the group will join up with the First Responder Angels to search for Mark Brunelle, a 59-year-old Bellingham man who spent many previous years in Burrillville, and has been missing for several weeks.
Ducharme says she was close friends with Brunelle in her 20s, when she ran a hair-salon.
“I shaved a Bruins symbol into his head and dyed his hair yellow,” she said. “His wife was so mad.”
“Of course, when I saw that he was missing, I had to offer to help in any way we can,” Ducharme said.
The group plans to canvass the area in Woonsocket where Brunelle’s truck and phone were found, looking for clues, and will meet at 7 a.m. at 60 Florence Drive.
Like with their other events, anyone who wants to help is welcome.
Ducharme plans to help organize the group, using a map to assign people to certain areas.
“I’m hoping for a good turnout,” she said.
Other upcoming events include a fundraiser for veterans at Howie’s Restaurant in North Providence April 11 and a “Mission for Hope,” event to help the homeless at 508 International in Charlton, Mass., held in conjunction with the Christian Jeep Association.
Berardis said other organizations that need assistance are welcome to reach out by sending an email to email@example.com
“We’re more than open to helping other groups,” he said.