DANVILLE — Last year, a motorcycle ride drew more than 300 participants and raised about $18,119 to assist homeless veterans.
This year, organizers are hoping to draw even more interest.
"I'd like to raise double that number, even triple it if we can," said Susan Gutterridge of the Midwest Veterans Association Inc. "The more we can raise, the faster we can help get these men and women who served our country off of the street."
The event, called Thunder Ride 2013, will be held on Saturday. It will begin at House of Bikes in Danville.
"All vehicles are welcome," Gutterridge said, adding last year, a number of cars and trucks followed the motorcycles. She also encouraged military service members and veterans to join the ride or the festivities at the Vermilion County Regional Airport and to wear their uniform.
This year's ride will take participants on a 135-mile journey through Vermilion County and west central Indiana. Participants will make stops at the VFW Post 4826 in Hoopeston, the VFW Post 3318 in Attica, Ind., the VFW Post 2395 in Covington, Ind., and the American Legion Post 203 in Georgetown. It will end at the airport.
Gutterridge said the group will receive a police escort through the towns they ride through. She added Tilton Ambulance EMTs will be placed along the route for any riders who might need assistance and follow the group in a chase vehicle.
Once participants arrive at the airport, Midwest Veterans Association Inc. officials will award a grand prize for the ride — a two-night package for two at the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Ind.
There will be food and drinks for sale. There also will be free beer and "frost shots" donated by the Long Branch Tavern on Hegeler Road south of Danville.
No coolers or backpacks will be allowed.
There also will be live music from a number of bands; an auction for diamond rings, a recliner, a hand-carved eagle made out of 18 kinds of wood and other items; raffles for gift baskets and gift certificates; and a 50/50 raffle drawing.
People can browse war birds and other military vehicles; a red, white and blue drag racing car; and red, white and blue cars from Carmack Car Capitol that will be on display.
Organizers will unveil a 1954 Chevy pickup truck that was donated by Teepak Credit Union. The truck will be restored into a "Patriot truck."
"We hope to have it finished the following year so someone can drive it off at the next Thunder Ride," Gutterridge said.
"This is truly a community event," she continued, adding the musical entertainment, prizes and other items have been donated so that 100 percent of the proceeds can be donated to the Homeless Veteran Assistance Fund of East Central Illinois and West Central Indiana.
The money raised from last year's event was used to help house more than 20 homeless veterans by paying their security deposit, first month's rent and/or back utility bills, said Jennifer Gerrib, the homeless veterans program coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs Illiana Healthcare System in Danville.
"We went through that $12,000 in about 10 months," she said, adding she's grateful for the community support. "This year, we have (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development/VA Supported Housing) vouchers in Danville and Peoria, and we also have 15 vouchers in Champaign. They're going to need beds, security deposits and the whole nine yards."
According to the VA, 23 percent of all veterans are homeless, Gerrib said. "We're trying hard both locally and nationally to decrease that number, and we are."
At the end of 2012, there were 62,619 homeless vets nationwide on any given night, Gerrib said. That's a 7.2 percent decrease since the end of 2011 and a 17.2 percent decrease since 2009.
Gutterridge organized the motorcycle ride in 2011 after learning about the homeless-veterans program. She said she plans to continue it and do other things to raise awareness about the problem until it's eradicated.
"Homelessness could happen to anyone. But it's unfathomable for me to think that someone who was willing to defend their country and put their life on the line should end up homeless," she said.
Thunder Ride 2013 to benefit homeless veterans on Saturday
The cost is $15 for drivers, and $10 for passengers.
Registration and a breakfast begin at 10 a.m. at House of Bikes, 533 E. Main St., Danville. The ride begins at noon.
Festivities at the Vermilion County Regional Airport, 22633 N. Bowman Road north of Danville, kick off at 3:30 p.m.
Commemorative T-shirts and tank tops will be on sale for $25 apiece. Sizes over 2X are $30 apiece.
Activities at the Vermilion County Regional Airport will kick off around 3:30 p.m.
Corporate sponsors include Carmack Car Capitol, Napa Auto and Truck Parts, Hoveln Heating & Cooling, Champaign-Danville Overhead Doors, No Regrets Tattoos, Midwest Asphalt Co., Long Branch Tavern, 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, Kool 92.9, 1440 WPRS and 98.5 WIDQ.