During the worst weather of the severe storm disrupting Bexar County this week, a fleet of Jeep owners offered to help the New Braunfels Food Bank distribute food to hungry residents in locations as distant as Spring Branch, Canyon Lake, and Seguin.
“I’m grateful to be able to have that opportunity to serve those that were struggling so bad in these harsh conditions,” said Rebecca Price, who co-founded the Jeep club New Braunfels Trail Team 6 in 2015 after marrying into Jeep ownership with husband Jason.
The Prices and Trail Team 6 are supporters of the food bank, regularly volunteering and fundraising for the organization. When they recognized the difficulties caused by the storm, with many staff members unable to get to work and volunteer drivers unable to navigate the snowy and icy roads, the Jeep club sprang into action.
Ten members drove food bank staff members to work so they could begin distribution, then set out on the roads to deliver food boxes to residents stranded at home by the hazardous conditions.
Price said she contacted Louie Guzman, New Braunfels Food Bank development director, and told him, “We can get this going and get our Jeepers out there, and what can we do? If we have the opportunity to do it, then let us help.”
‘Incredible support’ when needed
“Jeepers” is the term club members use to refer to each other. Other group lingo includes substituting the term “wheeling” for driving, reflected in the Trail Team 6 motto: “Wheel with a purpose.”
Monica Borrego, executive director of the New Braunfels Food Bank, said the help made the difference in helping the organization fulfill its mission despite the challenge posed by the storm.
“We opened up yesterday, for those that could get to us. But to be able to get to people was incredible, with their support,” Borrego said of Trail Team 6.
The ten Jeepers helped get food to 12 families on Thursday, and 12 Trail Team 6 members delivered food boxes to 23 families on Friday. Each family receives 100 pounds of food per box, enough for at least one week of meals, Borrego said.
One recipient was a 101-year-old resident unable to leave her home. Price said she was overjoyed as seeing how relieved the resident was to receive her food box.
The coronavirus pandemic had already more than doubled the normal caseload of 80 to 100 families served per day to more than 200, Borrego said, and since the storm hit, more than 100 people per hour have sought help.
Borrego started with the San Antonio Food Bank in 2007 and was on duty when Hurricane Ike struck near Galveston in 2008. Food banks from around the region are called on to help out in such instances.
This storm is “completely different,” she said. “Most of the time, when we’re responding to a hurricane, it’s been from kind of a distance. So the affected area is somewhere else.” This time, most members of her team were without power or water, just like the families the food bank serves, and some had difficulty getting to and from work.
Again the Jeepers made the difference. “They even took one of my staff members home to make sure she got home safely because her vehicle was sliding around on her way to work. She was scared to drive back home, and they offered to take her home, too.”
From two to 2,000
Anyone with a Jeep can be a Jeeper, but to join the New Braunfels club, they must also have a penchant for public service, Price said.
“There’s just so many different ways to be able to help out and assist, so as long as they get the gist of that, that’s where we’re coming from,” she said. “That’s our goals that we started out with, our main foundation. I think that’s what really sets us apart in our group.”
In addition to their work with the food bank, Trail Team 6 has been spotted at the San Antonio Zoo for a fundraiser that Price said contributed $5,000 and regularly organizes fallen officer parades to honor military and first responders lost in the line of duty and to raise money for their families.
An April “Blue Light” vigil in honor of Justin Putnam, a San Marcos police officer slain in the line of duty at age 31, drew 442 Jeeps from various area clubs, Price said. The amount matches Putnam’s badge number.
New Braunfels Trail Team 6 has gone from its two founding members in 2015 to 2,000 members today, Price said, a number that keeps growing, though she said they take their time vetting potential new members to be sure they understand the group’s community service goals.
“We love to go out and do all these things with our Jeeps, but we do it with a purpose and the purpose is being able to help our community,” she said.
Price said anyone can reach them through the Trail Team 6 Facebook page and that they intend to remain active helping out their extended community.
Once the storm subsides and the pandemic recedes, the group might be able to get back to its other activities, which revolve around taking Jeeps to four-wheeler adventure parks such as Marble Falls and Wolf Caves.
For now, they will “play it by ear” and gauge the need for food bank help and other community assistance, Price said.
One person with a kidney ailment in need of dialysis treatment cried with joy at being delivered to his medical clinic at 4:30 a.m. by one Trail Team 6 member, Price said. The member waited until 10:30 a.m. then returned the patient home safely.
“It’s things like that, to be able to provide those opportunities to people, it’s very rewarding and humbling,” Price said.