by Grace Dempsey, Ella Hurwitz and Bella Ishanyan, News Reporters, News Editor
graphic by Abby Kutin
Nearly a thousand people crowded the playground at Zervas Elementary School in the early hours of Nov. 23, 2019 to run, support and volunteer at the sixth annual Newton Turkey Trot. The race was a success, raising over $10,000 for the Newton Food Pantry and the Travis Roy Foundation. But a year later, no excited volunteers, spectators or runners gathered by the Zervas playground; the race was just a website.
After six years of spirited races, COVID-19 lockdowns forced the Turkey Trot to go completely virtual, with participants running on their own and recording their times online. As we transition back to our pre-pandemic lives though, the usual 5K (3.1-mile) course will begin at Zervas once again on Nov. 20. Runners will then continue through Commonwealth Avenue to City Hall and wind back to finish at Zervas.
Freya Hurwitz, a resident who has run in both the in-person and virtual Turkey Trot, said that the in-person environment is encouraging.
“In person, it feels a lot more like you’re part of the community because you’re running with so many other people, you see everyone else running together and we can all celebrate,” she said. “When you run virtually, it’s a little bit of a letdown.”
Despite the independent races last year, the Turkey Trot was able to raise money for two non-profits. Event organizer Liz Bloodworth said that the race was initially created as a fundraising event.
“When we started the Turkey Trot, the idea was that we would raise funds for the Newton Food Pantry for families in Newton, particularly around Thanksgiving, so it would give them help during the holiday,” she said.
Newton Food Pantry Board member Colleen Nolan said that the partnership between the Food Pantry and the Turkey Trot is mutually beneficial.
“Each year, [the race] pledge[s] that they’re hoping to give back to the pantry $10,000, which is an amazing donation. In turn, we help staff the race,” she said. “They get our volunteer base to be able to help them and then they raise funds on our behalf to be able to give back to people in need regarding food insecurity.”
Previously, the race raised money for both the Newton Food Pantry and the Travis Roy Foundation. After the latter organization’s announcement of shutting down operations after Roy’s death in October 2020, the race will donate to the Food Pantry and Journey Forward, a non-profit organization based in Canton, MA, that provides rehabilitative exercise treatments for people with spinal cord injuries or disabilities.
President and Founder of Journey Forward Dan Cummings said that he is excited to partner with the Turkey Trot and to continue working with the Newton community.
“I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve never attended [the Turkey Trot],” he said. “I’ve been a part of the Newton community for over 10 years, and I speak in the community for the Understanding Our Differences program, so I’m excited to come and see what it’s all about.”
The Turkey Trot aligns with Journey Forward’s values and goals to promote health and wellness for all residents of Newton, Nolan said.
“[The Turkey Trot] raises awareness for youth fitness, wellness and health. It’s to get the message out there and get the kids started in doing some physical activity,” she said. “It’s a fun, family-friendly event for a good cause.”
Bloodworth said that the community-oriented aspects of the event have allowed her to create fond memories.
“You have an event that you’re looking forward to, [that] you take part in with your friends, with your family [and] with people you’ve never met before,” she said. “You make friends because … you’re standing next to them, chatting [and] cheering people on, and you say, ‘Hey, I want to do this next year.’”
Fundraising Chair for the Newton Food Pantry Jen Abbot said that the Turkey Trot welcomes people of all ages.
“[The Turkey Trot] makes it very family-friendly especially, and you definitely get not just school aged families but people of all ages, which is exciting.”
Hurwtiz said that she appreciates the purpose and sentiment behind the race and encourages others to participate.
“The Turkey Trot is one of many races in the community that benefits the community, and I’m glad they’re there and I’m glad it’s an annual race,” she said. “I encourage people to either run the Turkey Trot or another race that suits them better for whatever reason.”
As organizer Priya Wagner prepares for this year’s Turkey Trot, she said that community Turkey Trots are special to participants because of the unity they bring.
“The reason we all enjoy a local race is because you’re running in your town, you’re raising money for something important in your town and people are supporting it because they live and work in this town,” she said. “That’s what makes everyone’s Turkey Trot an important one.”