In many ways, the spirit of Sacramento’s annual Run to Feed the Hungry event can’t be quantified.
Numbers can’t express the adrenaline rush at the starting line. They can’t measure the joy of being surrounded by family and friends, or the pride of seeing so many Sacramentans engaged in a community event. But numbers can help to describe the scale and success of a race that’s become a Thanksgiving tradition.
Now in its 22nd year, the Run to Feed the Hungry collects hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. It draws close to 30,000 people each year to its 5K and 10K races, making it one of the biggest turkey-day races in the nation. Open to walkers and runners, it’s an event defined by support and camaraderie, with just enough competition to keep things interesting.
Most numbers have stories behind them. Here are a few from this year’s Run to Feed the Hungry:
The number of registrants for this year’s race marked a record high, trumping 28,554 in 2013, the event’s 20th race. That accomplishment can be credited to the community members who worked to raise awareness about hunger this year, said Kelly Siefkin, communications and marketing director for the food bank.
Increased registration also might have something to do with the number of people required for a team. Previously, 20 were needed. This year, that number was reduced to four, encouraging more people to join with friends without feeling the pressure to form a larger group, Siefkin said.
Nevertheless, the largest registered group this year was Christian Brothers High School with 449 members, followed by rival St. Francis High School with 446.
While many Sacramento groups have been attending Run to Feed the Hungry on Thanksgiving for years, there are always newcomers. Among the first-timers adding to the grand total were the Nguyens, an Elk Grove family of seven who decided to make the event part of their day.
“We wanted to make a new tradition,” said David Nguyen, 44, who registered for the 5K with his wife, Linh, and three children as well as their aunt and grandmother. “It was something challenging that we could do as a family and also help a good cause.”
Though final fundraising totals weren’t available Thursday, organizers said they were hoping to bring in $1 million for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. The 2014 event raised $900,000.
The money bolsters the nonprofit, which assists 150,000 men, women and children each month. The bank works with 210 agencies to help people connect with appropriate services for their immediate problems and ultimately help them achieve stability.
On Monday, the food bank gave turkeys and sides to 5,000 Oak Park families – about 800 more than last year. Some of the proceeds from this year’s race will help support a new family-services hub in Oak Park; it’s slated to open in January.
“This money will really help us make sure the programs there get kicked off right,” Siefkin said. “Our clothing services, our parent education services and our direct (food) distribution services will also get a huge boost.”
Thursday’s chilly morning weather posed an unexpected challenge for Run to Feed the Hungry participants, who spent the hour leading up to the 8:15 a.m. and 9 a.m. starts jogging, stretching and huddling for warmth.
The coldest race day so far was in 2010 – a painful 28 degrees. But Thursday’s temperature – 37 degrees at 8 a.m., according to the National Weather Service – was low enough to evoke complaints.
“The goal is to not get frostbite,” said runner Kiley Garcia before the 5K. “Right now, I can’t feel my toes.”
Keina Johnson, who planned to walk the 5K, said she wore five layers for the occasion. “It’s freezing, but we’re prepared,” she said. “We’ve got hot soup and coffee. ... We just want to get moving instead of sitting on the couch all day.”
While many Run to Feed the Hungry attendees were just there for the fun of it, others came out to compete.
On Thursday, the top 5K run times were 14 minutes, 50 seconds for the male group, and 17 minutes, 10 seconds for the female group. The top 10K runners came in at 30 minutes, 13 seconds for the male group, and 36 minutes, 4 seconds for the female group.
Riley Martin, a 22-year-old Pollock Pines resident who took the male 5K title Thursday, said he has been working toward winning Run to Feed the Hungry since high school. Now training on UC Irvine’s track team, he said he wanted to stay in shape while home for Thanksgiving.
“It’s crazy how many people were out there,” he said. “I just wanted to stay with the cluster of competitive guys. I just wanted to win.”
The first female to cross the 10K finish line was Molly Greene, 46, who was competing in the wheelchair category. The Sacramento resident completed the course on a hand-cycle – a hand-powered vehicle designed for people with lower-body disabilities. Due to foot injuries for which she recently underwent surgery, Green hasn’t been able to run for more than a year.
“It’s neat being in that competitive atmosphere, and you still have everyone saying, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ and ‘You go,’ ” Green said. “I’ve been really grateful to be welcomed into the race, and to be able to continue being active.”
83 silly hats
Run to Feed the Hungry long has been a race with a sense of humor. Approximately 83 silly hats could be seen during a five-minute stretch at the start of the 5K race.
Attendees wore headgear that resembled turkeys, corn cobs and slices of pie, among other things. There were people in full turkey costumes as well as a pair in bunny suits. Dozens wore tutus, and many spiced up running outfits with face paint or zany socks.
Hillary Sunada has been wearing the same hat to the run for the past five years – a rectangular dinner platter sporting fake Thanksgiving food. Each year, she takes the hat out, dusts it off, and adds a few new food-like items. This year, she lined the brim with a string of faux cranberries and added stuffing made from a chopped white sponge.
“Everyone always says it makes them hungry,” she said while waiting to walk the 5K. “It’s not too heavy, but it does kind of hurt.”
No event of this size happens without a lot of help. Orange-shirted volunteers could be seen all over the race course Thursday, each with an important job to do.
The early birds among this year’s 650 volunteers arrived at 3 a.m. Thursday morning to help mark the course and close off streets. More volunteers followed at 4:15, and the bulk arrived between 5:30 and 7.
Volunteers handed out water and snacks, managed crowds, directed people toward parking spaces and picked up trash. There were volunteer medics and four ambulances on standby, though there were no reports of their being used.
“Not only do the volunteers make the day run smoothly, but they help the entire week prior,” Siefkin said. “Our staff would not be able to put this event on without them.”