In 2010, Eastbay’s marketing team presented the idea of beginning a charity turkey trot in Wausau – for a company with roots in running and community, this seemed like a perfect combination.
“The turkey trot originally started as a marketing initiative to keep the Eastbay name relevant in Marathon County,” said Carrie Sann, former vice president of Human Resources for Eastbay. “As it continued to grow, it became so much bigger than just brand awareness. It’s become about families coming together and supporting those in the community who are less fortunate.”
Ten years later, Eastbay’s Turkey Trot is still going strong. This success wouldn’t be possible without participants, so whether you plan to run, walk, or volunteer for this year’s 5K, know that you make a difference. Because what you see as just a registration fee is actually the start of a donation process that changes lives in the community.
1. From Eastbay to the Hunger Coalition
When Eastbay began planning for the event, the goal was to give back to the community, and United Way of Marathon County had just started their initiative to battle hunger. The perfect match between Eastbay and the Marathon County Hunger Coalition (MCHC) was born.
“When Eastbay discussed which cause we wanted to support, we thought about Thanksgiving and the people who didn’t have food, and it just made sense to give back to the newly formed Marathon Country Hunger Coalition,” said Carrie.
“The goal of the Hunger Coalition, in a nutshell, is to eliminate hunger in Marathon County,” said Dave Eisenreich, chair of the MCHC. “It’s an ambitious goal, but that’s what we’re trying to do.”
When participants register for Eastbay’s Turkey Trot, 100% of the registration fee is donated to the MCHC. To date, Eastbay has donated over $318,000.
“While the Turkey Trot only takes place over the course of two hours, it actually impacts the community throughout the year as we use those funds to purchase food for participating pantries in our community,” said Ben Lee, Director of Community Impact, Health & Financial Stability at United Way.
When the tradition began in 2010, there were 450 runners, and each year since, the attendance has increased.Last year, there were 1,830 participants who raised a total of $58,000.
But as the attendance has continuously grown through the years, so have the number of requests the MCHC receives for food assistance.
“Ten years ago, we served 75,000 people. Today, it’s 170,000 people,” Dave said.
Eastbay’s Turkey Trot is one of the biggest fundraising events for the MCHC allowing them to keep up with the increasing number of people in need. Which is why, according to Amanda Sahr, Employment Brand Strategist for Eastbay, they hope to set a record this year with a grand total of 2,000 participants.
If the Turkey Trot went away, unless we found something else to replace it, we couldn’t do what we do.Dave Eisenreich, chair of the Marathon County Hunger Coalition
2. From the Hunger Coalition to the Pantries
The MCHC is not a centralized food pantry, but it works with local food pantries to provide opportunities for collaboration and teamwork.
“We don’t want to take over or replace the food pantries,” Dave said. “That’s not realistic or practical for our county. They continue to focus on getting donations on their own, but we supplement what they’re doing and make it easier for them to succeed.”
One of the pantries that’s been a part of the MCHC since the beginning is The Neighbors’ Place (TNP) run by Executive Director Tom Rau.
“Cooperating with the Marathon County Hunger Coalition, and other local pantries, we make food stretch in ways we never thought possible,” Tom said. “I don’t think you’ll find an organization within the Hunger Coalition that would say it isn’t better than before it joined.”
The money that the MCHC receives from Eastbay’s Turkey Trot helps food pantries in two specific ways.
The first is purchasing monthly groceries for the food pantries within the coalition.
“We buy roughly $6,000 worth of food per month,” Dave said. “We have a list of staples that we buy through a local grocery store, and every month the Hunger Coalition truck will pick up the food and bring it to The Neighbors’ Place. Then it’s divided up by food pantry.”
The other way the donations help is with rural food delivery.
“The rural food delivery started years ago when we thought, ‘We’re the Marathon County Hunger Coalition, not the Wausau Hunger Coalition,’” said Dave. “So once or twice a year I’ll go as far as Edgar, Colby, and Spencer with a truckload of groceries and deliver to the smaller pantries.”
3. From the Pantries to the People
After the MCHC drops off their monthly truckload of groceries at TNP, volunteers divvy it up among the 11 food pantries. From there, each pantry operates a little differently depending on what works best for them, yet the result is always the same: people leave with more food than they arrived with. But food distribution is just the tip of the iceberg. When people visit food pantries, it allows them to save their grocery money for other expenses.
“It’s not always about people starving,” Tom said. “The money saved can go to heating a house in winter or fixing a car that unexpectedly broke down. Or, as we come up to Christmas, maybe by going to a food pantry, families can afford one or two more gifts under the tree.”
“Food pantries do so much more than just feed the starving.”Tom Rau, Executive Director of The Neighbors’ Place
A child of the ’60s, Tom thought by this time in his life the fight against hunger would no longer exist. But he remains optimistic, saying that, as long as everybody keeps asking the right questions, they’re headed in the right direction.
“It’s ‘What will happen to me if I stop?’ versus ‘What will happen to them if I don’t stop?’” Tom said, referencing Martin Luther King Jr.’s Mountaintop speech. “The Hunger Coalition and the people who formed The Neighbors’ Place asked that second question: ‘What’s going to happen in our community if we don’t help?’ And every year, Eastbay asks itself, ‘What’s going to happen to the Hunger Coalition if we don’t do the Turkey Trot?’ That question makes all the difference.”
Thanksgiving is the holiday most commonly associated with two things: food and gratitude. So how fitting that Eastbay along with the people of Marathon County spend a couple hours of their holiday giving back to their community and ensuring no one goes hungry.
We look forward to seeing you on Nov. 28 to celebrate a successful 10 years of trotting. Share your favorite memory from Eastbay’s Turkey Trot in the comments below.