When the Turkey Trot announced that runners had been asked to donate non-perishable food items to the Food Bank of Western New York, participants might have wondered if they’d be forced to carry a couple of cans from one end of the 8-kilometer course to the other on Thanksgiving morning.
Happily for the runners, there will be no heavy lifting for the 14,000 taking part in the 118th annual event on Thursday.
“They won't let us do that,” Mike Billoni, the marketing and public relations director of the Food Bank, said with a laugh.
That's about the only restriction on donations, though. The program is starting to become a part of the tradition surrounding the event, which is run by YMCA Buffalo Niagara.
“Three years ago, Ch. 2 – which has been a great supporter of the Food Bank – said, let’s get involved in the Turkey Trot,” Billoni said. “They decided to try to help collect food from runners. Every year we have been encouraging runners to bring two cans of nonperishable items to the race.”
The connection between the Turkey Trot and food is an easy one to make. Most runners, it seems, try to justify enjoying a feast of a Thanksgiving dinner by pointing out they had run about 5 miles earlier in the day.
“One of the YMCA’s focus areas is social responsibility, and helping the Food Bank collect some much needed food in order to help give back to our fellow neighbors was a natural fit,” said Kathy Romanowski, Communications Director for YMCA Buffalo Niagara.
This may not be necessarily the Food Bank's busiest time of the year in terms of clients – hunger doesn't take time off – but the organization might be at its most visible around Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We realize that once the calendar hits November, a lot of people say it’s time to give to the Food Bank,” Billoni said. “We can use items year-round, so we're very appreciative of these efforts.”
Since the program at the Turkey Trot started in 2010, Billoni has been thrilled by the response of the running community.
“The neat thing over the years, the most heartwarming part, is seeing families show up at the Turkey Trot. They'll have the children come over with bags of food, as parents teach them the importance of sharing with those who are less fortunate,” he said.
The donation period actually starts Monday. Runners can pick up race materials, such as bib numbers and shirts, at the Delaware Family YMCA at 2564 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. There will be collection bins for donations there. In addition, items can be donated on race day at the Buffalo Convention Center, site of the postrace party, and at the Target plaza in North Buffalo, where buses will pick up and drop off participants.
The goal is 4,000 pounds of food, which translates to 3,333 meals.
As for the race itself, it should get off to a good start this year with the help of a popular local runner. Dick Sullivan, who has run 46 Trots, is the honorary starter for the race.
Tom Donnelly, the event’s director, said Sullivan's response was right in character.
“When I asked him, he said, ‘Thank you, I'd be delighted. You probably could think of someone better, but I'd do it,’ ” Donnelly said.
“And then he added, ‘But I still want to do the race!’ I told him there would be plenty of time to jump into the race after he started it.”
Both the men’s and women’s winners of The News Runner of the Year series will be crowned after this race, the last in the yearly series. Neither title has been mathematically clinched.
On the men’s side, Vasilis Kariolis has a nine-point lead on Chris Walters. Among women, Allison Carr is 10 points up on Jennifer Koeppel-Acker. With 12 points going to the winner and the usual talented field expected, anything is possible.
Last year, Jed Christiansen of Greenville, Pa., and Jacklyn Rzepecki of Rochester, Mich., were the winners.
• YMCA Turkey Trot, 8K, 2564 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, 9 a.m. Thursday, 875-0457.
• Cold Turkey 5K, 355 Central Ave. in Fredonia, 9 a.m. Thursday.
• Home for the Holidays 5K, 600 Main St. in Medina, 9 a.m. Saturday, (585) 590-0699.
• Amy King 5K, 9 W. Summit St. in Lakewood, 11 a.m. Saturday.
• Reindeer Run, 5K, Medaille College in Buffalo, 10 a.m. Dec. 7, 880-2130.
• Holly Jolly 5K, 4190 N. Buffalo St. in Orchard Park, noon Dec. 7, 830-6713.