Everyone loves their cars, but for Niagara Area Jeep Club president Steve Gulley, the community that springs up around cars is what he really loves.
“This right here, this is what jeeping is all about,” Gulley said as he gestured to members of the Jeep Club as they accepted nearly a ton of food donations for Newark Neighbours.
“It’s fun going off-road up north, but this right here is family. All these people here, well, almost all of them, I’ve known for years. They are family.”
The club held its seventh annual food drive this past Saturday at Phil’s Valu-mart in Virgil. Gulley said the group collected some 1,800 pounds of food throughout the day and nearly $600 in cash donations.
He said it took five jeeps and two pickup trucks to carry all the donations.
Gulley, a resident of Virgil, said there are some 1,600 members in the Jeep Club across Niagara and more around Ontario.
Two of them, Janina and Anthony Montagna, organize the charity events the club holds.
“We want to be seen as members of the community and helping others is what we’re all about,” Janina said.
“We’re like a big family.”
“We have a big charity show every year. We haven’t had it in two years because of COVID,” Anthony said.
The club hopes to host a charity show again next year. Every year, proceeds go to support Bethlehem Housing, an organization that strives to provide affordable housing for individuals and families.
The buddy-buddy atmosphere of the club is reflected in its irreverent beginnings.
“Basically, we got kicked out of another jeep club and we started our own,” Anthony said with a laugh.
With 1,600 members and counting, it seems like the Niagara chapter has had the last laugh.
Club member Joel Graham was out on the sidewalk waving signs to ensure passersby knew the drive was happening.
“It’s absolutely great to be part of this community,” Graham said.
“Everyone's out here, everyones helping everyone, giving tips and tricks, teaching you little things you might not know about your Jeep and giving you the ins and outs of jeeping.”
Graham said he isn’t too motivated to do off-roading with his Jeep.
“I haven’t done a lot of trails, a few unassumed roads,” he said.
But he had some advice for potential trail blazers.
“As long as it’s OK by the landowners that’s what matters. Don’t be doing any illegal wheeling.”
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report