DANVILLE — When Susan Gutterridge learned about a local program that's working to help area veterans who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, she wanted to get involved.
"We've got men and women who served and were willing to give their lives to defend our country ... who are living on the street and under bridges," she said. "I said, 'This is not going to happen on my watch.'"
A motorcycle enthusiast, Gutterridge organized a motorcycle ride and event in Fithian last year to benefit the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System's Homeless Veterans Program. The event drew 42 riders and raised enough money to get eight veterans off of the street.
"I thought it was a great start. But we'll be back next year because we want to do more," she said.
The second annual motorcycle ride, now called Thunder Ride, will be held Saturday. It will take participants on a 137-mile ride through parts of Vermilion County and west central Indiana.
"I would love to see 500 bikes," Gutterridge said, adding all other vehicles are welcome.
The ride will begin at noon at House of Bikes, 533 E. Main St., Danville and end at the American Legion Post 210, 201 Prospect Place, Danville. Stops include the VFW Post 3318 in Attica, Ind., the American Legion Post 72 in Crawfordsville, Ind., the American Legion Post 263 in Cayuga, Ind. And the American Legion Post 51 in Westville.
Once participants arrive at the American Legion in Danville, the Thunder Ride Committee will award a grand prize for the ride — a two-night package for two at the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind. And four passes to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind.
There also will be a 50/50 drawing, bucket raffles, a silent auction, a wheel people can spin for prizes and live music.
"We're going to get a lot of different musicians who are going to come out and donate their time," Gutterridge said, adding she put an open call out on the Thunder Ridge Facebook page. "We're going to turn this into a jam for the vets."
People can also purchase barbecue ribs, chicken and pulled pork.
Gutterridge said all proceeds, except for $10 for the permit fee, will go toward the Homeless Veterans Fund to benefit the VA program.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than 67,000 homeless veterans on any given night.
The VA's Homeless Veterans Program partners with community agencies, churches and organizations to prevent vets from becoming homeless and to end homelessness among that population throughout the Illiana System's coverage area, which extends from western Indiana to the Peoria area.
Program coordinator Jennifer Gerrib said the VA program currently has issued 85 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development/VA Supported Housing vouchers — 60 in Danville, and 25 in Peoria. However, there are at least 50 people on an "interest list" in Vermilion County alone.
"Right now, the largest growing populations are females and families," Gerrib said, adding it's sometimes difficult to find housing for larger families.
Gerrib said proceeds from the motorcycle ride, as well as other community fundraisers, will help the program pay housing expenses that the vouchers don't cover. That includes security deposits for rental units and any unpaid utility bills that veterans may have.
"You can't get housing in your name until you get utilities turned on in your name," Gerrib said, adding some veterans have back utilities bills totaling $500 to $600.
"This community has really been amazing," she continued. "We couldn't house these vets without groups like them."
Gutterridge said the Thunder Ride Committee plans on making the ride an annual event "until we end homelessness among our vets."
Thunder Ride to benefit the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System's Homeless Veterans Program will be held on Saturday.
Motorcycles and all other vehicles are invited to participate.
The cost is $15 for riders/drivers, and $10 for passengers.
The pre-registration period ends at 6 p.m. today at House of Bikes, 533 E. Main St., Danville.
Registration will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at House of Bikes, and the ride will begin at noon. On the morning of the ride, participants will be served a breakfast catered by the Beef House.
Thunder Ride T-shirts also will be available to participants. They are $20 during pre-registration, and $25 on the day of the event.
Any remaining T-shirts will be available for purchase by non-participants later in the day at the last stop of the ride, the American Legion Post 210, 201 Prospect Place, Danville.
Corporate sponsors include Midwest Asphalt Co., Carmack Car Capitol, Pepsico Quaker Oats, No Regrets Tattoos, Alpha Bikes, Hoveln Heating and Cooling Inc., WIXY 100.3, Mix 94.5, 92.5 The Chief, WYXY Classic 99.1, eXtra 92.1, True Oldies 97.9, Kiss Country-WKZS 103.1, WSKL 92.9 in Veedersburg, Ind. And Pepsi Cola C-U Bottling Co. in Champaign.