Saturday, June 14, 2014

Helping hands

A can of green beans. A loaf of bread. Fresh vegetables and fruit. For many of us, these are things that we have at our disposal in our kitchen cabinets. For others, it's a challenge to pay the rent or mortgage, and a bigger challenge to put food on the table for their family. In partnership with the Itasca Walk-In Ministry, the Itasca Food Pantry provides local families with vital resources to put meals on the table when they need it most. Today, the food pantry serves 75 families in Itasca.

This morning, members of the Itasca Runners Club and their families spent a few hours helping at the food pantry, sorting food, stocking shelves, and learning about the incredible work that the Ministry and food pantry do. The Itasca Food Pantry is one of the beneficiaries of the Club's annual Itasca Oktoberfast 5K, the Club's flagship event held every October. Proceeds from the event allow the Club to support several local charities, providing both monetary and tangible item donations to those organizations who give back to the community. Recently, the Club was able to provide a Sub Zero freezer to the food pantry, giving them more space to keep meats and other frozen goods that they provide to their clients.
Volunteers tour the room of stocked shelves

A newer offering by the food pantry is the Birthday Bag program. Launched just a few months ago, the food pantry assembles bags filled with items to help make birthdays special for children aged 1-13, including a cake mix and frosting, candles, table cloths and other decorations, and age appropriate gifts. All of these items are donated to the food pantry, and parents can choose a bag for their child, already sorted by age and gender. The food pantry believes that every child should have something that makes their birthday special, even something as seemingly small as a festive table. Today, the food pantry provides bags for 70 children in their client families.

Helene presents the Birthday Bag
program to volunteers
The Runners came to work, and that's exactly what we did! Adults and children alike went to work sorting canned foods from boxed foods, stocking the shelves so clients can find what they need, filling boxes with toiletries and personal items, and cleaning the work room.
Father and son, working hard
Dan and Mark filling crates
with meats
Jim stocking shelves
Teamwork at its best
These kids worked hard!
Club members learning about
the Walk-In Ministry

The food pantry presented the Itasca Runners Club
with a certificate of appreciation for their
continued support of the food pantry's mission.

Members of the Itasca Runners Club.
Club members and
future Club members their children.

I will be the first one to admit that our family does not volunteer nearly enough. When you hear the stories of families who spend years donating to the food pantry, only to find themselves later needing the pantry's services, it is inspiring to witness the work that the women and men who run the pantry do for their community. Through generous donations from the community, as well as partnerships with the village, local food stores, and a regional food bank, they are able to provide a vital service to the community. In today's world, none of us ever knows if or when we might need a service like this one, and it's nice to know that it is there when emergency assistance is needed.

Have you volunteered lately? Do you know where your local food pantry is? Call your local village hall to learn more about the health and human services that they provide to your community.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Girls on the Run 5K, Mommy/daughter run!

I had the pleasure of running a 5K with my daughter yesterday. Ethel participated in Girls on the Run this spring, and yesterday was one of the program's regional races. Ethel asked me at the beginning of the program if I would be her running buddy, and I jumped at the chance.

Ethel is not one to jump at the chance to do anything physical. This is not to say this child is entirely sedentary, but physical activity is not her forte. I was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to do the GOTR program, but not just because I'm a runner. I want her to be involved with kids outside her tight-knit class, and I want her to see that sports can be fun and rewarding.

There were lessons throughout the program about teamwork, bullying, and nutrition. She asked me several times about whether certain foods are healthy or not, and why we eat certain foods and not others. Don't get all crazy on me here, she still eats less than a baby robin. That's another topic for another day.

I offered a couple times to jog around the block with her to give her some additional practice for her race, but she declined. She was quite firm that she was doing only this 5K, nothing more and nothing less. There will be no other races, no other running. Well, OK then.

There were a couple nights when she would share her thoughts with me about the race. One night she told me that in the race, we'd start out slower and then get faster. One day last week when I proposed an outing, she told me she was resting so she wasn't too tired for her 5K. This was the night before she ran around the field at the college track where I had a track workout. Well played.

Anyway, she's not a morning person by any stretch, so having to be at the school by 6:15AM was really a hit. I thought she might never get out of bed. She argued, yelled, and walked the 1.5 blocks to school with her arms folded, brow furrowed, and lips pursed. This all changed once we got to school and her friends began to arrive, of course.

Feel the excitement
Seeing Ethel with her friends is really a peek into a world that I know nothing of. She is so vibrant, silly, and funny around her friends. Not that she's not these things at home, but, the silly side is entirely different than the silly side at home. I love it! I watched her on the bus as she and her friends chatted and giggled and described the feeling of leaning their heads and faces on the windows as the bus drove along. It's also reassuring to see other children interested in talking to your child, and genuinely enjoying their time together.

Fast forward to race time. Ethel held my hand while we waited in our corral for our start. I was surprised by this because she is not a hand holder. I repeat, not a hand holder. I tried my best not to make anything of it, but I did whisper in her ear that I was happy to be there with her. She forced herself not to grin. It was awesome.

As in any race, that first maybe mile or so is always congested. Try navigating the crowded mile with hundreds of third thru eighth grade girls and their running buddies all running at different paces, many of which, like us, are holding hands. That first mile was actually the most energetic of them all, as one might expect. The kids figure they need to run, and kids don't really have the whole "I should pace myself" mentality, so they go balls out for a while, 'til they lose steam. Then they walk. At 0.4 miles. And the cycle continues for 3.1 miles.

I heard more than once, "If this old lady can do it, so can you!", as mothers tried to coax their daughters to pick up the pace. It was actually very cool to see so many parents, both moms and dads, who aren't runners but who were really giving it their all and supporting their daughters. Ethel and I agreed to walk through the water stops, but I told her, "You can walk through it, but you have to run to it!". And we did. It was a really warm morning, so I made sure that Ethel took plenty of water at the stops. She even dumped a cup of water on her head at one of them!

There were several teams where all the girls and their running buddies wore tutus. It was pretty cute, actually. So at one point, I told Ethel, "You're not going to let a little kid in a tutu finish ahead of you, are you?". Her response? "Really, Mom?" {insert eye roll} I actually think that with all the eye rolling (like, out of their heads style) that morning, it's a wonder nobody stepped on one along the course. Pretty funny, if you ask me, albeit annoying at the same time.

This event is not timed, but I am CompetiMom, and needed to know how we finished. I wore my Garmin. Yes, that was me, hitting the <start> and <stop> buttons at the start and finish, as if it were one of my own races. I am proud to say, though, that Ethel and I finished, HAND-IN-HAND, in 43:31!! For her first 5K, I thought it was awesome!

We were both thrilled to have done this together. Fred and Hot Dad came and watched and cheered us on, and when we saw them just before the finish, cheering for us, I caught a beaming smile flash across Ethel's face. Then disappear. It was beautiful.

Here we are, just before the finish:

Feeling the energy of the crowd
We each got a medal. I gave her a great big hug. She wriggled away and went and sat with her friends. She laughed and celebrated. Then we went to IHOP to eat. It was a beautiful morning.

A before picture
I didn't get any pics of the two of us with my own camera, but, I did take a pic of the girls and some of the running buddies:

Fine looking group!
Best of all, she said she'll do it again next year. Mommy's doing the happy dance!