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Fun run highlights kids in need

Participants gather at the Lake Nebagamon Auditorium following the 2016 Thanksgiving Day Fun Walk/Run. The event, which begins at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, offers community members a chance to exercise, socialize and help feed homeless children. Submitted photo

The Thanksgiving Day Fun Walk/Run in Lake Nebagamon is an odd duck.

No one will be tracking times. No T-shirts or awards will be waiting at the end of the line, although runners may get a high-five.

Participants can walk or run any distance they choose. Dogs and strollers are welcome. No registration is needed.

This is the fourth year the event, organized by a group of female runners from the community, takes place.

"The group who started it wanted to get a run in before Thanksgiving festivities began and wanted to do something for the community at the same time," said annual participant Shari Olson. "We all enjoy running and spending time together, but didn't have the time to organize a run with T-shirts, prizes, timing, etc. so we just invited the community to join us."

The fun kicks off at 9:30 a.m. outside the Lake Nebagamon Auditorium. Runners can expect fresh air, a chance to burn off some pre-turkey calories and the opportunity to feed the homeless.

Instead of spending money on travel and entry fees, participants are asked to make a monetary donation to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank's Backpack program. Backpacks full of easy-to-prepare food are sent home with 38 children in the Maple School District weekly.

"The number grows every year," Olson said. "Our first year, it was single digits."

Twenty-two of those children attend Northern Lights Elementary School.

"The kids are so appreciative," said school counselor Kara Hietala. "I have two little girls that hug me every Friday and tell me thank you. Another little boy tells me how he loves the soup cans with the pull off tops because then he can make supper for him and his little brother."

"It is comforting for them to go home on Friday knowing they will have enough food for the weekend," Hietala said.

Backpack distribution offers an opportunity for staff members to touch base with each student.

"Sometimes it's just a quick 'Hello' and 'How are you.' Other times it leads to more in-depth conversations," said Jenny Forsythe, Northwestern High School at-risk and school-to-work coordinator. "Either way, our students know that they have people here at their school and at the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank that care about them and their well-being."

The event raised $1,300 last year with the help of $500 in matching funds from one runner's employer. That employer is offering the same match this year.

The run/walk takes place in all weather.

"Last year it was rain," Olson said. "Two years ago it was 20 below."

Those who want to help but can't get to the event can donate online at www.northernlakesfoodbank.org. The impact will be felt far into the future by children in need.

"I can say that the program has grown over the years," said Northwestern Middle School counselor Erika Kaufman. "It has been good to see it take root and meet a need. The students that are in the program seem to really count on it."

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