In most cases, yellow is used to indicate caution; proceed slowly. At Cruisin’ The Coast, this year Oct. 2 to 9, special yellow shirts indicate the wearer could be a visitor’s best friend.
That’s because they’re volunteers, members of 11 car clubs across the Coast who come together each year to help make Cruisin’ run as smoothly as a well-oiled piston.
“The clubs provide over 600 volunteers,” said Woody Bailey, Cruisin’ executive director. “They serve a very important role. They direct traffic and help register cars. They provide hospitality to our visitors.”
Two of the car clubs are the Mississippi Coast Mustang Club, with about 60 member families, and the Mississippi Beach Cruisers, with about 55 to 60 member families. Their respective presidents, Craig Grisoli and Terry Ward, gave examples of what their clubs contribute to Cruisin’, now in its 20th year.
“We started working this past Saturday (Sept. 17),” Grisoli said. “We were setting up parking at Cruise Central and hanging caution tape. We also work on registration and at the Hardy Court kickoff.”
“We are at Edgewater Mall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. All registered cars have to go through that for the prize money. And we’re at the flame throwing at Island View in Gulfport on Tuesday. I’ve been site manager for both. We also have volunteers going to the packing party,” Ward said. At the packing party, volunteers insert fliers and other items in bags to give to each driver when they arrive for the event.
Car clubs also have events throughout the year.
“We have a yearly show at the Biloxi VA in May,” Ward said. “The money raised there goes to the VA Volunteer Services. The vets love it because we bring the cars there. We’ll also be doing a toy fund drive in December. We also do a drive-through at the VA on the Monday morning of Cruisin’. We’ll gather at Hiller Park and line up to go to the VA from there. The patients wave and holler at us.”
“We’ll be tagging onto Terry’s club and going to the VA,” Grisoli said. The group also has taken cars to area nursing homes and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
At the end of Cruisin’, Bailey said, each car club that helps gets money based on the number of registered vehicles.
“We ask them to give the money to a charity or charities of their choice,” he said.
“We raise money for car shows, and we vote who to give the money to each year,” Grisoli said. “There are three, four, five different charities. Cruisin’ is very generous to local charities.”
“Ours goes to the Gulf Coast Women’s Center for Nonviolence as well as the VA,” Ward said.
Both agreed that sometimes, needs within the memberships of their own clubs arise and money might be given to that member.
Because the volunteers are locals — from the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as car clubs in Slidell and Covington, La. — Grisoli and Ward both said they have valuable knownedge of what’s available on the Coast.
“We have 600-plus volunteers working Cruisin’ day to day. I constantly hear, year after year, about the hospitality of our ‘yellow shirts.’ They get tons of compliments. We all live here and so we know the answers to people’s questions,” Grisoli said, then turned to Ward. “If Terry had a dime for every time a volunteer has helped someone who wants to know where they can get good seafood or other things....”
Ward said two of the most common questions volunteers hear are “Where can I get non-ethanol gas?” and “Where is an auto parts store?”
“Of course, we can’t give people our opinions on what’s the best, but we can direct them to some places,” he said.
“People ask for directions, especially if it’s their first time here,” Grisoli said. “When they come back, they remember, but it’s that first-time visitor who’s going to have questions. They’ll ask, ‘What’s a don’t-miss event?’ ‘What entertainment is at what casino?’ Or ‘What’s the easiest way to get there?’”
Car clubs also have two members who are part of Cruisin’s advisory committee.
“They’re conduits between the clubs and the board of directors,” Grisoli said. “They can offer invaluable ideas. We’re always trying to make improvements, and little suggestions can make things a lot easier.”