BELEN — The low roar of engines from a group of motorcyclists filled the Los Lunas Schools special services parking lot May 12. The group of about 20 riders parked side-by-side made it clear they were here on a mission.

As they dismounted their bikes, you could see their vests all sported patches of different kinds, painting a picture of each rider’s individuality. However, the largest patch on each rider’s back, depicting the emblem of the Moose Riders, is what unites them.

This crowd in particular is Moose Riders of 1680, the Belen chapter, and they brought with them a special delivery.

Submitted photo.

Felina Martinez |  News-Bulletin photos

Riders unloaded off their bikes bag after bag of $2,200 dollars worth of newly purchased school supplies. One by one they transferred it all into a portable which houses supplies for the LLS McKinney-Vento-Homeless Assistance program.

The McKinney-Vento act protects the right of children and youth to get to, stay in, and be successful in school while they or their families are homeless. The program helps provide them school supplies, clothing and more based on their needs.

“This is just one of four deliveries for McKinney-Vento,” said Marcos Jaramillo, vice president of the Belen Moose Riders group. “We’re going to be delivering school supplies and hygiene kits for children in Belen as well.”

The Moose Riders are part of the Moose International organization, founded in 1888, whose objective is to help children and seniors in need. The Moose Riders are recognized as a recreational motorcycling activity group which uses motorcycling as a way to provide a positive community service outlet for Moose members.

“We’re just doing our part to give back and help in any way we can,” Jaramillo said. “Riding is our passion, so we figured what better way to get together and do work for the community because we know the different needs and different areas we can help.”

Belen Moose Riders unload their donations of newly purchased school supplies into a Los Lunas Schools Special Services portable. The supplies go toward students experiencing homelessness or displacement.

Marcos Jaramillo, vice president of the group, gets ready to hit the road after holding a safety briefing with fellow riders. Jaramillo is among the original founders of the group and is set to become president in August.

The Belen Moose Riders became an official group in June 2021, and they are the first chapter to exist in New Mexico. The idea began in 2019 with eight founders, and they are now up to 70 members.

“That’s one thing we take pride in, big time,” said John Rivas, president of the Belen Moose Riders group. “47 other states had Moose Riders except New Mexico, and now look at the way we’re expanding!”

“We want to show that the biker community is also out there to help the community,” said Jaramillo. “There were a few of us who originally rode together, and when the idea came about we went back and forth about it. John was facing cancer at the time, he fought it three times, beat it and continued to push through. Going through all that, you get to that point where you want to make a difference while you’re still here—to do something good.”

“We were all young, done our fair share of different kinds of things,” Rivas reminisced. “But as you get older, you get wiser. And at the end of the day, you realize it’s not just about yourself.”

“Being one of his best friends, I pushed him to say this is your time, let’s make that difference and impact in our community. Let’s give it a shot,” Jaramillo said. “We didn’t know what it was going to be when we started.”

Jaramillo said getting the group up and running has been a lot of work, but it’s come with a lot of learning experiences. So far they have raised funds and given donations to local organizations such as H2 Academics, Senior Living Systems, Dance in Motion, Our Lady of Belen soup kitchen and more.

Belen Moose Rider president John Rivas getting ready to ride.

A Belen Moose Rider shows a child his bike at a donation delivery they did for Dance in Motion Academy in Belen. Submitted photo.

Jaramillo said a moment from a donation delivery they did for El Ranchito de los Ninos, an orphanage in Los lunas, particularly impacted him and has now become a fond memory that continues to motivate him.

“A little boy saw us rolling in, he had big ol’ eyes, and I could tell he was interested in the bikes. He’s kinda’ shy, but he’s paying close attention,” Jaramillo recalled. “I asked him ‘What you think about the bikes?’ and he thinks they’re just the neatest thing. I ask if he’s ever been on one and he said no.”

Jaramillo said he picked him up and set him on the bike, which he put in neutral.

“I told him which buttons to press to turn it on and I told him to turn the handle a little and the engine starts revving. The look on his face was priceless!” said Jaramillo, animated with excitement. “We want to let them know that there’s people rooting for them. To make that kid smile, and see his face light up, you know they’ll never forget it.”

To raise the funds for donations, Jaramillo said they do a variety of things that involve the community. For example, they host raffles that local businesses and individuals can donate items for. Local establishments can even provide sponsorships.

“In the past year we have donated over $8,000 in school supplies to the community,” said Judy Brown, lodge president of the Belen Moose Riders. “We just ended the fiscal year. Looking back, our group gave away over $67,000 to local organizations and to national Moose charities.”

Internally, they also raise money through merchandise sales, fundraising events at their Belen lodge and motorcycle runs that involve Moose Riders getting together to ride and pitch in money for the cause.

Rivas said the Belen Moose Rider group has been a success due to the group’s strong core and sense of volunteerism.

“A lot of times with volunteering, a lot of people don’t want to step up, but we’re very fortunate cause we got a good group of people who do, and everybody has a say. The group can’t ever just be controlled by one person,” Rivas said.

Belen Moose Riders present a donation to senior assisted living center Senior Living Systems in Los Lunas. Submitted photo. 

A couple of Belen Moose Riders prepare to depart from the Belen Moose Lodge.

Looking to the future, Jaramillo says the group is planning to do something in support of children with autism.

“A lot of those kids get left out, so we’re doing our homework right now and reaching out to different foundations,” Jaramillo said. “We’re also working to get a summer raffle together, so we are looking for a couple more donations from the community.”

Rivas encourages people who are interested in joining to stop by the Moose Lodge to see if it’s the right fit for them. The lodge is located at 19482 N.M. 314 in Belen.

“There’s not a lot to do in Belen if you think about it,” Jaramillo said. “The Moose Lodge is somewhere you can go and have something to eat, there’s a casino, pool tables, a place to have a cold beverage and everybody’s like family.

“Plus, you don’t have to have a bike to be a Moose Rider,” he said. “Out of 70 members, we have about 30-35 riders. When we do these events we need people who can do different things.”

Jaramillo said meetings are the first Thursday of the month for anyone who wants to check it out as a visitor. Since it’s a private group, you’re allowed to be a visitor two times before you have to become a member.

It costs $55 a year to be a Moose member. How much time you choose to put in is based on your availability. Being a 501c non profit, Jaramillo says their local membership fee is only $20 a year, and that money goes into the general fund to help charities.

“There’s an old saying my grandpa would tell me all the time — iron sharpens iron,” Jaramillo said. “When you’re around good people, with good attitudes, trying to do good things together it just brings out the morale of the group and gives everybody a reason to do something good.”

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.