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'Just one duck at a time': Duck Duck Jeep movement spreads kindness

Janelle Townsend gave out about 80 ducks between March and November. Townsend owns a Snazzberry Gladiator Jeep. (Photo Courtesy of Janelle Townsend)
Janelle Townsend gave out about 80 ducks between March and November. Townsend owns a Snazzberry Gladiator Jeep. (Photo Courtesy of Janelle Townsend)

For Rob Long, one rubber duck means the world.

As he left work, he found it sitting on his Jeep, Kimberly Long, his wife, said. From there he left to meet Long, and together, they drove to Newberry to put their rescue pit bull to sleep.

Even after he traded his Jeep, Kimberly Long said her husband still kept the duck.

“For whatever reason, sometimes these ducks just find their way into people’s hands that need them on that moment and that day,” Kimberly Long, a Jeep Gladiator owner who works in Gainesville, said.

Duck Duck Jeep, an act of kindness where Jeep owners place rubber ducks on each other’s cars, was created by Allison Parliament in Ontario, Canada. Since its start in 2020, the movement has taken hold of the United States. As of Feb. 7, the “Duck Duck Jeep - Florida” Facebook group had about 16,900 members.

Melanie Reagan, a Jeeper from Palm Coast, Florida, said Duck Duck Jeep is a phenomenon that makes people smile, especially after the challenges of COVID-19. Her Jeep, named Ascender, is a tribute to her love of rock climbing.

“When you walk to your Jeep and see a duck, you feel good — even as adults,” she said.

Jeep owners display their ducks in what Reagan calls the “duck pond,” the dashboard area in the vehicle made for sunglasses — a daily reminder of how they were gifted their rubber travelers.

Reagan’s favorite is her Elsa duck, which she received while taking her grandson to his first charity event in Tennessee. “Frozen” is her favorite Disney movie, she said, and the item reminds her of time spent with her grandson.

“I felt like I was probably 5 again,” she said.

Even when she’s not in her car, Reagan carries ducks in her purse for others, often trying to match the Jeep’s personality to her choice.

But Jeep culture extends beyond rubber ducks. The community has developed its own etiquette guidelines, charity events and clubs. Besides ducking, Wrangler drivers are known for their infamous Jeep Wave, a two-finger signal resembling a peace sign directed toward other passing Jeeps.

Rebecca Pratt, 52, a nurse at UF Health The Villages Hospital, said she finds herself waving to other Jeeps even when driving her husband’s truck.

“I got to watch myself,” she said laughing.

For the past year, she’s been the owner of a 2002 burgundy, two-door Jeep named Sangria.

One night as she was leaving her 12-hour shift, Pratt received her first duck, which sat waiting for her on Sangria’s door handle. Suddenly, she forgot all about her day, she said.

“I’m good; I’m refreshed,” she said. “I got a duck.”

After receiving her third rubber duck, Pratt ordered 50 of her own on Amazon. Members of her assortment include a pink mohawk duck, one with sunglasses resting on its head and another with a panda face.

“It brings me a lot of joy,” she said, adding that she felt compelled to pass on the feeling.

The movement continues to get more and more creative, Janelle Townsend, a Jeep owner from Holiday, Florida, said. She’s seen people receive duck keychains and ornaments, as well as Jeep matchbox cars.

Townsend gave out about 80 ducks — some St. Patrick’s Day and Disney-themed — between March and November. With the help of her 8-year-old, Townsend said they punch holes and write tags to go with the small acts of kindness. On each one, her Jeep’s name and city are clearly stated.

Taking inspiration from Harry Potter’s pet owl, Townsend calls her Snazzberry Gladiator Jeep Hedwig. On its hood, a snowy owl decal can be seen alongside the Jeep’s name printed in the movie franchise’s popular font.

“It was more stressful than naming my kids,” Townsend said.

Beyond the ducks and the decorations, Townsend said having a Jeep is about belonging to a community bigger than herself.

“You could own a Ford Mustang,” she said. “You can own a Hyundai, but that community is not doing anything remotely the way the Jeep community is.”

Owning a Jeep gives John Chapman, a retired fire chief and current pastor in the St. Augustine area, a feeling of brotherhood. His Gator-blue Jeep named Andie, short for Star Trek’s Andorian, is his third Wrangler.

In November, Chapman and other “Duck Duck Jeep - Florida” members banded together to ship rubber ducks to group member Nicky Sorensen for her daughter, Dixie. Through a post, Sorensen asked for the ducks as a birthday gift for the now 3-year-old, who has spina bifida and loves ducking jeeps.

“That’s the kind of response you get in the Jeep community,” Chapman said.

Shannon Iglesias, who works at UF Health Labor & Delivery, said she is part of Alachua County Jeepers and Gainesville Jeepers, clubs in which groups of owners go on trail rides, have barbecues and hang out.

During the pandemic, Iglesias called on Jeepers to participate in a truck parade to celebrate a boy’s birthday. About 40 Jeeps participated in the event, Iglesias said. Duck Duck Jeep is just one aspect of owning the vehicles, she said.

“There’s just a lot of charity and a lot of parades that we do,” she said. “We’ll convoy and show our support for different things in the community.”

In November, Reagan attended Krawl’nfor the Fallen, an off-road, four-wheel drive event in Starke, Florida, that raises money for families of fallen police officers. More than 700 Jeeps were on the trails, according to its Facebook page.

During the Night “Remembrance of Our Heroes” Ride, Reagan said they honored the fallen officers by driving down a trail without any lights. Instead, they followed the blue glow sticks attached to the back of each Jeep and were guided by a path of luminaries.

Coming down the trail’s hill, she could see officers and survivors on the other side; something Reagan said was both heartwarming and humbling. She left knowing they touched others' lives and remembering the importance of togetherness.

“There’s always hope out there for everybody to just get along,” she said. “Just one duck at a time.”

Juliana is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.