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Before the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning, the cars start rolling into Market Street. 1968 Camaro. 2002 Corvette Z06. 2010 Jeep Wrangler. 2015 Mustang GT.
The car enthusiasts arrive early to get a good spot to show off their babies as more than 100 vehicles park around the shopping center for the monthly Cars and Coffee for a Cause event put on by The Woodlands Car Club.
The hobbyists gather in groups to swap car stories, fathers bond with their children over the inner workings of an engine and senior citizens take a walk down memory lane, admiring the classics.
"It's intimate, friendly, personable," Dana Pritchard, the event coordinator, describes the event that brings the community together to share its love of special cars while giving back. "You never know what you're going to see," she added.
Since the event is geared toward raising money for local charities and providing a venue for community car lovers to share their obsessions, there are no specifications or requirements for what vehicles can participate. "We don't discriminate," she said.
Pritchard's one request is that those who participate make a donation of any size to Market Street's Change for Charity program. Year-round, the change collected from the voluntary parking meters that line the shopping center's streets is donated to a local non-profit organization selected by Market Street. This year, the four charities, each receiving proceeds from a quarter of the year, are the Lone Star Animal Welfare League, the United States Veterans Initiative, Bikers Against Child Abuse and The Will Herndon Fund for Juvenile Batten Disease Research. Each quarter, The Woodlands Car Club writes a check to the designated Change for Charity organization, passing on the offerings from the community's car enthusiasts.
"My main goal is to educate (attendees) on non-profits that need help," Pritchard said. She describes the car show as an opportunity for the average person - who may not be able to afford to attend a charity gala or golf tournament - to make a difference.
"We're using our cars to give back ... it makes people happy to see these vehicles," Pritchard said. "It's a win-win." Since the event's conception in 2008, it's raised upward of $10,000 for more than two dozen Montgomery County charities.
Passion for cars
A New York native who retains a hint of an accent in spite of more than 20 years in Texas, Pritchard has been in the business of specialty cars for 13 years. As a self-described tomboy growing up around her dad's Corvette infatuation, she sees her career path as a natural step. In 2003, with only two nickels to rub together, she says, Pritchard teamed up with her business partner, Sean Rizk, to open The Woodlands Performance and Suspension. Now, the garage, which is guarded by a spunky shop dog, a Yorkie named Hazelnut, is crowded with a mix of classics and new cars alike to be maintained or customized.
Over the years, even as high-end vehicle dealers have moved into the area, their success has been built on care for the customer and the community, Pritchard says.
And even before opening the business, Pritchard was one of the first members of The Woodlands Car Club, which celebrates its 15 year anniversary this month. The club started as just a handful of car lovers organizing a couple of shows a year. Pritchard led the way in establishing the Cars and Coffee for a Cause event, wanting to make giving back a staple in the club's purpose. In addition to the monthly event, the club serves as a resource for business, groups and individuals who are looking for special cars to display or use for an event, such as a wedding or grand opening. Even for these club activities, Pritchard encourages that there be some kind of charitable component.
In its 15 years of existence, The Woodlands Car Club has donated over $100,000 to organizations in the county.
"(Those who donate) don't realize the good they're doing," Pritchard said. "There's no better feeling."