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Interfaith group sprints to end hunger and homelessness

on November 3, 2015

Costumed sprinters hit the streets on Saturday as the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) hosted its 29th Annual Harmony Walk/Run to End Hunger and Homelessness. The event is a major fundraiser for GRIP’s Souper Center program, which serves meals for over 200 people every day.

“Whether you’re Muslim [or] Jewish etc., no matter who your God or higher being is, we believe that we should all be doing something to help someone besides yourself,” said Art Hatchett, GRIP’s “interim” executive director for the last 18 years.

As the last of the early-morning dew dried from the grass of Nichol Park, participants began streaming to the registration table, where volunteers in orange shirts and the occasional witch’s hat greeted them. Being just the second time that the race had fallen on Halloween, walkers and runners seized the opportunity to add some seasonal sparkle to their step.

One mother, Rebecca Mitchell, held a cooing baby in pumpkin attire in one arm and shepherded a small giraffe and Iron Man with the other. A member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, she said the cause of fighting hunger and homelessness resonates with her simply because it is an everyday reality in the Bay Area. “Anyone who lives with the daily reminder of that in their world, the sadness of it, and reading the statistics of homeless families and children… That hits you in the heart,” she said.

Patrick Moran, a volunteer at his local St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic charity, said he is happy to show solidarity with GRIP, a group with a similar mission. He’s also volunteered at GRIP’s Souper Center. “There’s families, individual homeless people, people who have homes but can’t afford to buy food, maybe disabled people who don’t have enough income,” he said. “It’s really pretty diverse, pretty different families and types of people who come in there.”

Before the race got underway, participants gathered before the stage for a quick warm-up stretch led by Justin Wong, a representative from the Richmond site of the energy company Chevron Corp., the corporate sponsor of the event since 2008.

“If you know GRIP, you know they’ve been in this community for a very long time,” said Chevron’s Community Engagement Manager (and team member) Andrea Bailey. “We just feel like GRIP’s commitment to the community … fits in with our values at Chevron as well.”

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt joined in the pre-race stretching. “This is truly a community event, where people and communities of faith from all over Richmond come together to raise money for healthy, nutritious food and to end homelessness,” he said. “So let’s get out and do some walking!”

As participants gathered at the starting line, Richmond Police Explorers stood at attention before them, and officers from the Richmond Police Department blocked traffic along the course. The most eager runners danced just behind the start line. Then, they were off.

Mary Davis and Janice Wilson walked in the race, along with Wilson’s grandchildren, 9-year-old Adia and 11-year-old Ajamu Reed, who ran. Community plays a large role in the women’s maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “We have a regimen,” said Davis. “Janice walks about five miles a day?”

“At least!” Wilson chimed in. Davis added she walks two to three miles with a group of friends.

Zebedee Stiers and Fernando Flores outpaced others, rocketing towards the finish line with Zebedee’s dad, Todd, and younger brother, Malachi, not far behind. The winners in the adult male category included Flores in first place (with a time of 20:07), followed by Keith Christensen in second and Todd Stiers (20:57) in third. Sharlet Gilbert (21:46), Chris Anderson (23:13), and Myla Domingo (25:54) were the top three adult female runners.

In the youth male category, Zebedee Stiers (19:20) was followed by Malachi Stiers (20:50) and Paxton Fawcett (23:12). In the youth female group, Ainsley Fawcett (23:13) took home top honors, followed by Nikita Frasier (34:13) and Nicole Frasier (35:52).

As the race ended, many families stuck around to trick-or-treat at the booths that rimmed the park, eat at food trucks, or embark on a pony ride.

Hatchett summed up the purpose of such community health initiatives like GRIP’s. “The whole idea is just that people need to be whole,” he said. “We want healthy people, we want well people, we want folks to be able to participate in the government and in the lives of their community, and this is just a good start for all that to happen.”



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