Before the third helping of stuffing, the second piece of pumpkin pie and the infinite regrets of overconsumption, thousands of Sacramentans will start their Thanksgiving Day by putting generosity before gluttony and indulging in a bit of charity: The Run to Feed the Hungry.
“The first time we thought, ‘It will be something fun just for the four of us to do together,’ and we enjoyed it so much,” said Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott, who runs with his family – two 20-something sons and his wife. “There’s no other morning like it in Sacramento.”
For some like the Pimlott clan, the event is about bonding with family and friends – a tradition beyond the main meal. For others, it’s a pleasant penance that offsets the guilt of the feast to come.
For the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, it’s a vital piece of its financial puzzle. Last year, the race raised about $925,000 for the private nonprofit – about 15 to 20 percent of the organization’s annual budget, said Kelly Siefkin, vice president of communications and marketing.
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With 27,172 people signed up for this year’s event so far, she expects the race – the largest turkey-day trot in the country – to bring in about the same amount. Looking at her “heat map” Tuesday afternoon, she said the race was drawing participants from across the United States.
“They are from everywhere,” she said. “Florida, Vermont, Massachusetts, Seattle, Denver, Minnesota.”
The money from those race fees helps pay for food in all the county’s food banks, along with other programs including ones that provide parenting education and clothing for the needy. Last year, the organization distributed more than 21 million pounds of food and more than 18 million meals locally. It also handed out almost 300,000 pieces of clothing, helped 181 refugees resettle, and provided immigration services to 547 people.
While partaking in philanthropy on a day of decadence is surely noted by higher powers and Santa Claus, for most of those who run, amble, dance and don costumes, the event is mostly about having a good time.
Thousands of runners stream through the neighborhoods, many in fowl-inspired garb. Some get more creative – dressing as superheroes and various dishes found on the Thanksgiving menu, including corncobs and cans of Campbell soup (think of the ingredients in that green bean casserole to explain why the iconic red and white cans get a call-out). Bands play music, residents cheer from their lawns, well-wishers hand out drinks – making it as much community festival as fundraiser.
“It’s just a really fun way for us to start our day,” said Noelle Green, while picking up her race packet on Tuesday at REI. Green, with her mom, Laura Stile, in tow, was getting numbers and T-shirts for herself and her four kids – ages 12 to 26 – who will be running the race together for the fourth year. After they clock their miles (Green said some may be walked), they’ll head to breakfast at the Hilton Hotel, where her nephew works, another part of their family racing tradition.
Oak Park resident Jacqui Bissell is running for her first year, but is hoping she’s sparking a new tradition with her in-laws. Bissell, her husband, Craig, and his mom, Debbie, were also getting their gear on Tuesday. Craig, 29, has done the run a couple of times and his mom has done it “six or seven,” she said. This will be the first time they do it as a family – with the Bissells’ other son flying in from Colorado in time to take part.
“We’re starting a new tradition ... It’s a great cause and it’s such an uplifting event, I think it’s a great way to start the day,” said Debbie Bissell.
But there was some controversy in the elder Bissell’s household with the suggestion that the day begin someplace outside the kitchen.
“My husband’s first question was, “Who’s going to put the turkey on?” said Debbie Bissell. “Turkey doesn’t take that long. That’s how I look at it.”
The turkey dilemma was not unique to the Bissells. At Green’s house, her mom, Stile, and husband will stay behind to make sure the bird makes it in the oven. Stile said her knees won’t let her run but she can cook.
Pimlott has run the race 14 years in a row, the past three with his his second-in-command, Chief Deputy Director Janet Barentson, and her family. This year he has a turkey issue too – he’s been collecting them for the less fortunate. He and other Cal Fire leaders gathered about 20 of the big birds to give to the food bank, making it “doubly special,” Pimlott said. He plans on doing it again.
“I think (the turkey donation) is definitely going to be a tradition too,” he said. “Every year is a little different.”
For those who haven’t registered but may be inspired at the last moment, the race takes same-day registration. For $45, participants can join in at the start line at 6000 J Street in front of the entrance to Sacramento State. The 10K race starts at 8:15 a.m., with the 5K following at 9 a.m.