Frank Gluck, email@example.com 12:34 a.m. EDT August 24, 2014
At least 150 Mini Coopers. Possibly a hundred Harley-Davidson motorcycles. A few limos thrown in. Lots of flag waving and military salutes.
It was one of the more visually unique motorcades to make its way through Fort Myers and Cape Coral in recent memory. The goal: Raise cash for Operation Open Arms, a local charity that provides veterans with vacations, fishing trips, weddings and assistance with funerals.
Ideally, the money raised over the weekend will keep the organization afloat for at least another five years, said Open Arms founder, retired Marine Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch.
The organization has only held three such fundraising events in its history, including one this spring at Matanzas on the Bay that generated about $4,000, Bunch said.
Saturday’s parade of Minis and Harleys was the largest and aims to raise $50,000, he said. A donations tally is expected by next week.
“We’ve never had an event like this, so I’m in unknown territory,” Bunch said. “I’m not sure how realistic it is, but it’s a goal.”
Bunch said he started the charity “by accident” — a free fishing charter trip he offered to a soldier on leave from Iraq turned into a small operation providing similar services to others in the military.
A 2005 profile on NBC’s “Today” show led to an avalanche of donations. Today, Open Arms is a registered public charity that serves vets in Florida and Maryland.
Saturdays’s event started at Mini of Fort Myers, south of the Bell Tower shopping center, and headed with a police escort to the War Memorial on Veterans Parkway in Cape Coral.
Participants finished off at The Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery in south Fort Myers. Among them were about 30 members of the Southwest Florida Harley Owners Group.
“It’s for the veterans. It’s for the first-responders – police, fire(fighters), EMTs. We have a lot of retired people from all those organizations in our chapter,” said chapter director Ron Chapperon.
Don Czech and his wife, JoAnn, brought their red and white striped Mini to the event. They’re such fans of the Minis, they travel with a small model of one in their car.
“I’m a veteran myself. So, anything that supports the troops, I’m all for it,” said Don Czech, of Cape Coral. “I served three tours in Vietnam – we didn’t get any of this kind of stuff.”
Connect with this reporter: @FrankGluck (Twitter)
About Operation Open Arms
Founded in 2005 by John “GiddyUp” Bunch of St. James City, Open Arms has provided 2,949 servicemen and women free one-week vacations, planned 99 weddings and assisted with 31 funerals. All donations go to these services. Open Arms does not pay its staff or its leadership, publicly reported tax documents show.
How to help
Donations can be made at the Open Arms website. Those who wish to help go to operationopenarms.org or send tax deductible donations to:
• Operation Open Arms, P.O. Box 101, St. James City, Fl., 33956