Sunday marked the 14th year the Veterans Motorcycle Club of New York Chapter 8 held its annual Motorcycle Run for awareness of homeless veterans.
The event raises funds for the Albany Veterans Housing Coalition. Although things are a little different this year because of coronavirus, organizers say, the message and mission are just too important to postpone or cancel the event.
"I had questions from a lot of people with the COVID because usually every year we go down there and there are politicians that speak, there are different organizations that speak, and they said, 'Are we still doing it this year?'" said Robert Bannon, president of the Veteran's Motorcycle Club of New York, Chapter 8. "And I said 'We're not going down to eat hamburgers and hot dogs, we're going down to support the guys that raise their hands and said, 'I will,' they've fallen on some hard times and it's important to all us.' It's important from them to know they're not forgotten."
Bannon says making sure these veterans know they're still on their minds is key, despite everything going on it the world. Lee Vartigian, the director of Veterans Services at Albany Veterans Housing Coalition says having this event this year is even more important.
"We're donation-based and we're grant-based, so the grants are OK for right now, but with COVID and everything going on we have to do our fundraisers," Vartigian said.
This event is just one of many the Veterans Motorcycle Club holds for the housing coalition throughout the year. Despite the heat on Sunday and the COVID restrictions on the event.
"But yet, as I count the bikes we're well over a hundred bikes which is an exceptional ride for this year," Vartigian said.
Organizers say, it comes full circle.
"Throughout their training, you know, you don't have a choice you go out there and you do what you have to do for the country," said Warren Youngblood, a case manager for AHC. "So it doesn't matter if it's hot, cold, raining, whatever it's doing. So, we just come out here and do what we do and take care of each person here."
Plus, there's action behind the funds raised and the support the Veterans Motorcycle Club members provide to the vets. The Coalition provides housing, support and training --but the goal is that it's temporary and transitional, helping veterans get back out on their own. Bannon says he's seen some of their efforts in action.
"We've been able to help some of the people down there," Bannon said. "One of my brothers in my chapter was a homeless veteran in that shelter before, so it's something that's very near and dear to us."
But beyond helping get those who've fought for our freedoms back on their feet.
"It's just reassurance to the veterans that what they did had value and that the people that are here and did not have to go over didn't forget," said Ruth Fredericks, an employment specialist at AHC.
This year's ride left from the Rotterdam Park & Ride and wrapped at the AHC's housing on First Street in Albany for Veterans. Riders each paid $20 per bike to take part in the event.