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Running: Charity race takes the shirt off runners' backs

Most road races hand out t-shirts to participants.

The “Friends of Night People” organization does that at its event, but it also takes in more shirts than it hands out.

That charitable aspect is one of the interesting features of the “Putting Hunger on the Run” race, which will be run for the 14th time on Sunday, April 2. The 5-kilometer run helps the organization provide food and clothing for the less fortunate people in Western New York, and the “gently used” shirts are quickly put to good use.

“It was part of our mission,” said Joseph Heary, the executive director of the organization. “They go back to our clothing closet to hand out. We always pick up some nice shirts.”

You might remember the time that Kenmore’s Paul Hassell cleaned out his closet one year and drove up to the race registration area with more than 2,000 leftover shirts. That’s unusual, but many runners do donate at least a few items.

“Last year, over 700 donated race t-shirts were distributed through our clothing closet to individuals in need,” Heary said.

The head of the nonprofit company is taking on the job of organizing the race for the 10th time. He probably didn’t expect to get an education in road racing in the position. Heary points out that he has plenty of help, and the plan for putting everything together doesn’t change much from year to year.

One area that apparently will change this year comes in the area of police protection for the runners. The City of Buffalo has started to charge for supplying that service to races. That’s quite understandable, and other municipalities have been doing it in the last couple of years.

Still, it’s an extra cost for races such as this one - and it takes a bite out of the bottom line.

“It will have a direct impact,” Heary said. “The bill will be about $2,400. That will take money right out of the funding that we use that are feeding people with it. Last year, we didn’t get hit with it. Nobody ever called for it.”

It’s surprising how well the race does financially. Last year, the event raised $11,623, which Heary said pays for almost 6,000 meals for those who are homeless or in poverty. Considering that only 160 runners finished the 2016 edition, that’s very impressive.

It was a good-sized jump from the 2015 figures, in which the race raised $8,674. Heary credits some good sponsors for the financial success of the race.

The event did have one small hiccup this year in terms of planning. Organizations usually spend a great deal of time picking out a date for a race that works well. “Friends of Night People” did that - only to find that

Canisius College’s “Shoes for the Shelter” race was on the same day in mid-April at the same time. Not only would that harm attendance at both races, but the Buffalo Police doesn’t want to work on two races at the exact same time.

Some negotiating was needed, and an agreement was reached.

“When you’re talking about April, you won’t get a perfect day,” Neary said. “We always have it in April, but they had it on the calendar too. We said, ‘Oh my God, we have a conflict.

“But it was amiable. We met each other at the race directors’ meeting in January, and it was more of a matter of coordinating things. In the end it was a quick discussion.”

Otherwise, it’s business as usual for the run. The course starts and ends around D’Youville College, and the course is an unusual one as it winds around the West Side of Buffalo. It’s a little difficult to manage in terms of traffic control with all of its intersections, as compared to a relatively closed area like Delaware Park. But it’s part of the race’s appeal.

“The course has been the same course as it has been, but there are changes that I’ve seen to the West Side over the years,” Neary said. “The area is going through something of a resurgence. There’s still work to be done, depending on the pocket you’re in. But it’s nice that it’s right in the community as the runners circle around.

“I think what is so important is that there are really good courses that runners enjoy, and ours is one of them. So while we are raising awareness of hunger and poverty in our community, we are also coordinating event centered around the running community.”

Race calendar

• Dolphin Dash, 5K, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 10:30 a.m. on Saturday April 1.
• Friends of Night People’s Putting Hunger on the Run 5K, 320 Porter Ave. in Buffalo, 10 a.m. on Sunday April 2, 884-5375.
• Flatline Series No. 1, 3 miles, Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, 6:15 p.m. on Wednesday April 5.
• Feel the Spirit, 5K, 921 Cleveland Dr. in Cheektowaga, 11 a.m. on Saturday April 8, 380-0231.
• Fudd’s Run, 2 miles, Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, 11 a.m. on Saturday April 8, 868-1055.

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