New Life Still Running with a Virtual 5k
By Tod Dimmick
The pandemic has affected every community event this spring, including the annual New Life 5k Trail Run, an event that raises more than 20% of the New Life Furniture Bank’s budget. This Massachusetts charity serves nearly 700 hundred households every year, including individuals, families, single mothers, seniors and veterans, as they come out of homelessness. New Life collects high-quality gently-used furniture and household essentials that are then made available at no cost to individuals and families in need.
Faced with the challenge of having to cancel its annual 5k Trail Run, New Life sought creative and safe ways to hold their event, which raises funds that are critical to New Life’s ability to serve its clients. “The economic impact of COVID-19 is hitting our clients hard,” said Rich Purnell, Executive Director of New Life. He added that, “in the coming months, we anticipate a surge in requests as many families will be displaced from their homes.”
After careful thought, the trail run organizing committee announced a new “virtual 5k.” Runners and walkers register the same way they would for a conventional run, at www.newlifefb.org/virtual5k, where they can also create or join a team. Participants create their own 5k route, or use fitness apps like MapMyRun and Strava. Teams or individuals may even choose to row 5k on erg machines, or to bike. Entrants complete their personal 5k anytime between April 13 and May 10, and runners and walkers log their times on Racewire. On May 11, results will be posted and awards will be given in traditional categories, as well as in new, creative categories like most creative course.
Ron Yates, co-founder of the New Life Furniture Bank, said “we recognize that this is a totally new way to do something like this, and that is part of the fun. The Virtual 5k could bring even more people to the event because it is so easy to participate from anywhere, at any time. A team could be made up of family members, high school or college cross country teams looking for fitness and competition, an office group, you name it!”
The organizers also believe that the event offers an important opportunity for supporters who, especially in these challenging times, seek ways to do something positive and proactive while still being safe. “Folks joining the Virtual 5k not only support the New Life mission, they also are a welcome part of a community doing something that matters,” said Yates. “That’s especially important right now. And, running in the virtual 5k is a healthy thing to do. Everyone wins.”
Carmen Luisi of Holliston was the top female runner in the 2019 Trail Run (at age 13!), and she’s looking forward to the Virtual 5k this time around. “This is a very important cause, even greater now because people are struggling financially with the current pandemic,” she said.
Dan Haley, of Wayland, said he will run the Virtual 5k this year with his family. “My wife and 12 year old daughter and I had a wonderful time at last year’s 5K,” he said. “With everything in the near term shutting down, we were excited to hear that the New Life event is going virtual. One of our goals as a family as we navigate this strange, temporary reality is to continuously reach out to help others. Another is to keep getting exercise! So this checks both boxes, and gives us something worthwhile and active to do as a family.”
Mark Silva is a partner at the law firm Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP, a sponsor of the event. He plans to run the race for the first time this year. “At a time when we’re all cooped up in our homes looking for something to do, looking for a way to help,” he said, “the 5K is giving us the opportunity to support an incredible organization… while being completely flexible on approach.” He added, “We plan on doing the 5K as a family this year – my wife will run and I am planning to bike the 5K with the kids.”
Kristin Chisum of Wayland will also run the Virtual 5k again with her son Luke. “We are thrilled that the race committee has come up with a way for the race to go on,” she said. “We live near the woods near Walden Pond so that’s where we’ll be.” She added: “I know that we will finish our 5K again this year with a feeling of gratitude – thankful for this group of people that have found a way to change people’s lives and have provided this 5K as a way for us to do our own little part.”
Participants in the New Life Virtual 5k will be encouraged to post photos of their participation with the hashtag #NewLifeStillRunning or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The registration page reads, in part, “It is our hope that sharing everyone’s fun photos and stories will bring joy to our New Life community and inspire other people far and wide to join the cause.” The organizers made it clear that they want more ideas from supporters about how to make the event fun and accessible to all. Ideas are coming in already, including filming clips of virtual bystanders cheering on the runners, and asking kids to create colorful yard signs.
The Medfield-based not-for-profit organization operates a Donation Center in Walpole, and serves the MetroWest and Greater Boston area.