BY ASHLEY SZATALA
Mike Missak, RIPON 2001, started Jeeps on the Run, which each December collects thousands of toys and dollars for the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program
In 2011 Mike Missak, RIPON 2001, was strolling through a local car show with his children when they pointed out there were no Jeeps. “They were like, these car shows are cool, but we want to see Jeeps,” says Missak, who has been a Jeep enthusiast since he obtained his driver’s license. “I apparently passed that [love of Jeeps] onto my kids.” So, he started looking for Jeep clubs to put together a show. The clubs’ plans for such a vehicular showing never came to fruition.
“The Jeep clubs were like, ‘We’ll handle this at another meeting.’ I was like, ‘I’m not trying to make a big deal out of this.’ I was just trying to get a few together,” Missak recalls. “So, I ended up creating my own club.”
Called Jeeps on the Run, Missak thought he’d only get a handful of vehicles together. Soon 30 Jeep owners were committed. “It was like, if we have this many Jeeps, we might as well do something good with it. Let’s all bring a couple toys to donate to Toys for Tots, and it kind of just crescendoed from there,” he says.
About 35 Jeep owners participated and collected money and several toys to donate to the U.S. Marine Corps’ charitable program. Today, the ninth annual Jeeps on the Run event was held Dec. 5, 2021, has grown to have as many as 850 Jeeps participate and has led to Jeeps on the Run being the largest donating group to Toys for Tots in northern Illinois. For his work organizing this annual fundraiser and toy collection campaign, Missak has been named the winter quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award recipient.
40,000 CHILDREN HELPED
When Jeeps on the Run was starting out, there were originally two Jeep get-togethers: one in the summer and one in the winter. The winter event quickly eclipsed the summer event, and Missak found that organizing and holding the summer event led to lost traction with the winter one. Planning for the Jeeps on the Run Toys for Tots event starts months in advance.
Come event time people pay a registration fee to participate and can purchase other items like official shirts and hoodies, and that money pools together for purchasing toys. Raffle tickets to win a Jeep – this year’s event raffled off a 2021 Jeep Wrangler – are also sold, and that money gets added to the pool as well. In addition to needing to register, participants are required to bring at least one toy to donate.
The turnout and festive spirit for each Jeeps on the Run Toys for Tots event is an incredible sight.
“We’ve got a whole committee called our road crew, and their job is to park 800 vehicles in a dealership parking lot that holds 400,” Missak says. “The one toy requirement is almost funny at this point. At the end of the event last year we filled two semi-trucks, and there was another couple that donated a trailer full of toys. We had to put extra toys on their trailer.”
Jeeps arrive decorated, and for the 2021 event they went from Ray Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Fox Lake, Illinois, to the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, Illinois, which is about a 20-mile route. Squad cars escorted the Jeeps so that everyone could stay together. Once at the Genesee Theatre, various activities like live music and face painting were available for families to do. Afterward, Missak, his family and volunteers use the money raised to purchase more toys.
“The shopping event is my favorite part. We go shopping with the Marines, they tell us what they’re short on … and it’s anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 that we’ll go spend,” Missak explains. “Two years ago we went to [a] Five Below [discount store], and we literally cleaned them out. There were empty shelves.”
Marine Corps Toys for Tots coordinator Robin Schultz explains that the program is a partnership with the community to collect donations. Toys are stored in a warehouse and then sorted by age and gender. For Christmas, coordinators, with the assistance of local social welfare agencies, church groups and other community agencies, distribute the toys to children ages newborn to 14.
“The demand for toys has continued to grow exponentially. There is no way the Marine Corps could meet this need on an annual basis, and that’s where Mike came in,” Schultz says. “He has championed the effort of a new and fun way to collect toys for those children in need through Jeeps on the Run. With the help of the participants, he has helped make the holidays shine a whole lot brighter for so many children. Mike and Jeeps on the Run have been very instrumental in covering a large area, bringing much awareness to the program and collecting many toys.
“They have served approximately 40,000 children and have collected over $750,000 worth of toys. Without Mike and this event, that is 40,000 kids that would not have had any toys for Christmas.”
Although Toys for Tots is the charitable organization Jeeps on the Run puts its most effort into, the group supports other causes as well, including a blood drive and animal shelters. It also has helped financially other Toys for Tots programs.
“It’s an awesome time of year because it’s festive, you can have fun with it, everyone’s in the giving mode and at the end of the day it’s not about us, it’s about what we do for others,” Missak says. “That’s my whole goal with my group.”
That giving mentality is one that was honed in the Ripon chapter house.
A GIVING ATTITUDE
Missak was philanthropy chair for a period while in college and remembers the tight-knit group of brothers regularly supporting the local community.
“My experience at Ripon College and Sigma Chi as a whole certainly impacted my lifestyle, my thought process, my friendships and everything else. It was always about helping others, how do we do good and to have that do-good attitude. That was the general mentality of our house,” Missak says. “I certainly think all of that played a role in me continuing that same ‘helping others’ mindset and to do something for others even if no one is looking.”
He adds that that giving attitude is one he has tried to instill in his children.
“My kids have basically grown up with this [Jeeps on the Run event] their whole life, so they don’t know any differently for the most part. [It’s meaningful] seeing them get involved, especially when we go shopping for the toys and watching them pick out toys for kids their age,” Missak says. “They don’t ever ask if they can have something. It’s never about them or us. It’s a proud dad moment for me.”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.