A luminous holiday jaunt helped a running club collect food for the hungry.
“This has been a rough 12 months for many people,” Larry Alfonso said Dec. 13 as he glimpsed nearly 200 runners at 16th Street and Oregon Avenue. “This time of year, though, I look for unexpected sources of joy, and what I’m seeing tonight will definitely be among them.”
Out for an evening stroll that included picking up takeout food, the recently unemployed resident of the 2500 block of South Jessup Street had his spirits lifted, as the merry meanderers, members of the South Philly Striders and the Fishtown Beer Runners, united for their sixth holiday lights run, bedecking themselves in festive attire to cover a 3.5-mile course complete with copiously decorated streets. They added novelty to their revelry, donating 356 pounds of goods to assist the hunger elimination mission of Philabundance, 3616 S. Galloway St.
“We love any chance to improve our camaraderie with one another and our neighbors at large and count on this run to bring on a few laughs, with the bonus being the chance to help the less fortunate,” Striders’ co-founder Kathy O’Neill, with daughters Emma, 13, and Anna, 10, along to collect canned goods and blare support, said as fellow enthusiasts congregated at the Broad Street and Oregon Avenue starting point.
The resident of the 200 block of Wharton Street began the club six years ago, using her recreational running infatuation and a strengh-in-numbers approach to attract members, who meet Tuesday and Saturday mornings, with an optional Thursday a.m. journey, at Front and South streets and Wednesday nights in Old City. Though many Striders call Pennsport home, their group has acquired geographic diversity, with participants coming from locations such as New Jersey and West Chester, and contains highly competitive and compassionate individuals, according to member Leonard DeProspo.
“Seeing this sort of altruism is always touching,” the resident of the 200 block of South Street and Philabundance volunteer said before his colleagues found their feet leading them through Marconi, Lower Moyamensing, East Passyunk Crossing, Passyunk Square and Point Breeze, where they replenished themselves with libations from the American Sardine Bar, 1800 Federal St. “Behind their competitive exterior, we have so many people who just want to enhance their communities, too.”
In seeking to establish a relationship with Philabundance, the Striders, with 252 members listed on their Facebook page, are courting a proven humanitarian. The region’s largest hunger relief organization, the 28-year-old company assists approximately 900,000 people at risk of hunger and malnutrition in nine Delaware Valley and four New Jersey counties, relying on its programs and unions with nearly 500 agencies to do so. It distributed 19 million pounds of food last year, and with 2012’s end nearing, the Striders and their Fishtown allies elected to ensure that households can make more bountiful whatever holiday they observe.
“We came here happy and now that we’ve built on that by helping Philabundance, let’s hit the streets,” Beer Runners founder David April said as his peers, many bundled to fend off a late autumn chill and others opting for shorts, clapped. “I’ll see everyone at the bar.”
Just before April’s declaration, the levity picked up when runners doubling as reindeer arrived pulling a sleigh bearing Santa Claus. Not to be outdone by his Christian companions, Fishtown’s Neil Brecher came dressed as Jesus, topping his outfit, quite literally, with a menorah hat. Heading west on Oregon Avenue as the run commenced, the nimble nighttime participants, many of whom have competed in notable local and national events, enjoyed conversation on topics such as their holiday plans, the Eagles’ wretched season and hopes for a joyous ’13, yet those matters trailed the libations as the dominant interest, with science supporting their cravings.
April, who will mark the Beer Runners’ fifth anniversary tonight with another bar-bound trek, began his club, whose Facebook page lists 668 members, as an homage to Professor Manuel J. Castillo of the School of Medicine at Spain’s University of Granada, who proposed in ’07 that moderate amounts of beer can prove as effective as water for rehydration and recovery following exercise.
“The professor is never far from our minds,” April said as he and his friends finished inspecting the 2700 block of South Colorado Street, one of seven brightly decorated blocks they included on their itinerary.
As the clubs welcome runners of all abilities, last week’s gathering possessed a relaxed feel, and the laughter coming from the participants provided just the jolt Alfonso has lacked since his November termination.
“I appreciate what these guys and girls are doing,” the Lower Moyamensing dweller said. “I’d definitely have a beer with them.”
Had he followed them to their ultimate destination, Alfonso certainly would have received even more exposure to their gregariousness, as they celebrated their efforts with draft specials and more vivid lights.
“We’ve become a close group of friends over the last few years,” Strider Elizabeth Coleman, a resident of the 200 block of Sigel Street, said. “It was such a pleasure to see the event grow so exponentially and successfully over that same time, from a handful of runners from the same neighborhood, Pennsport mostly, to an event of roughly 200 runners from all over the city and beyond.”
For more information, visit southphillystriders.com.
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
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