Roo Ride benefits military support organizations
The sounds of engines revving and people cheering filled the air as more than 60 motorcycles took off to embark on Sanford's first Roo Ride, a new addition to the Kangaroo Express "Salute Our Troops" campaign.
"It's a way for people in Sanford to give back," said Chris Pellum, manager of the Kangaroo Express on Jefferson Davis Highway, where the event was held. "It's not a me thing. It's not an I thing. It's a we thing."
Pellum's store has done motorcycle rides as part of the campaign in years past, but 2014 is the first year that stores across the state are doing it.
"It really came from some of the stores," said Paul Stoner, Kangaroo's regional director for Central Carolina. "They used to do these sorts of events on their own. This year, we have 13 Roo Rides across the Southeast."
North Carolina stores have hosted five events this year in Sanford, Raleigh, Charlotte, Fayetteville and Goldsboro. But the event is more than just a motorcycle ride. Food vendors, a bounce house a live DJ and a number of military support organizations were also featured.
"This is the biggest turnout we've had," Stoner said of the crowd. "We have 68 riders signed up, the folks from Lizard Lick Towing are signing autographs. We've got a Vietnam-era helicopter here, and the guys from the [U.S. Veterans Corps] brought a lot of their equipment out."
Stoner said Kangaroo had raised $1,000 during the first 45 minutes of the event, and that all money raised goes to help — the Fisher House Foundation, the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces, the U.S. Veterans Corps, the United Service Organizations of North Carolina, the Soldier and Airman Assistance Fund of North Carolina and other state-based military support organizations.
He said the campaign, now in its fourth year, has raised up to $2 million in the past, and that Kangaroo was getting close to that mark this year.
"About half of our stores are within 25 miles of a military base," said Jessica Satterlee, marketing and promotions manager for Kangaroo, when asked how the Salute Our Troops campaign got started. "And 30 percent of our employees have some connection to the military. Either they have served themselves, or they have a family member serving."
Pellum, the brains behind the Roo Ride according to Stoner, is one of those employees with personal ties to the military.
"My husband is ex-military," Pellum said. "My father was in the Army in '67 to '70. I've got a cousin who is active, and my stepdad is retired. It's a major passion. I've got a lot of friends on active duty. It's around us in our everyday lives. It's our mothers, our dads, our brothers, our cousins."
Dennis Roach, executive director of the Soldiers an Airmen Assistance Fund, was pleased with how the event turned out and grateful to Kangaroo for its support.
"Today is a perfect day for riding bikes," Roach said Saturday. "Every biker who showed up has been just as nice and supportive as could be. It's been nice to talk to some of these guys. A lot of them are vets. It gives you a good feeling to know people care."
Roach, a retired sergeant major with the U.S. National Guard, said organizations like Kangaroo are essential to helping veterans, and that the SAAF accepted no public funds, relying solely on private donations.
"[Kangaroo has] donated millions to help support troops," said SAAF member Kyle Snyder. "And not just troops, but families, too. When I deployed, my wife and my family deployed, too."
Executive Director Andrew Ladner of the U.S. Veterans Corps, a hands-on community service organization that helps veterans with everything from food to housing, said the Salute Our Troops campaign was what helped put the Corps on the map.
"This is probably the biggest turnout we've ever had," Ladner said. "You get this kind of crowd in smaller communities. They get bigger turnouts. The smaller towns put them on better."
Sanford resident Steven Bunnell knows exactly what it means to be a part of a small, tight-knit community. He has been stopping at the Kangaroo on Jefferson Davis Highway for breakfast for more than a year now, and was eager to help out with the event in any way he could.
After being told the store employees would be able to take care of the volunteer work, Bunnell decided to act as doorman, holding the gas station's door open for patrons throughout the day.
"I got here this morning and saw everyone piling in and out on top of each other," Bunnell said. "So I figured I would stand here and hold this door open. I have a great view of the [festivities], and I get to give a little something back to the troops on a beautiful day."
Pellum said she couldn't be happier with how "her signature fundraiser" turned out, and that the months of planning it took were well-worth the effort.
"We're the ones who reach out to the community," Pellum said of her and her employees. "[Kangaroo] supplies us, and we turn around and spread it out into the community. ... It reaches out and gets them involved. It puts a face on supporting soldiers."