Yesterday I participated in United Against Poverty’s Quack Attack 5k. United Against Poverty is an organization committed to helping people create a sustainable life and lift themselves out of poverty. They believe in the hand up philosophy, that you can do more for a person by enabling them to do it for themselves.  The race was a very new experience for me, I’ve participated in plenty of charity fundraisers but it was the first time I was on the organizer side of things. It was an interesting insight into events like this.

My experience began at 4am, up before the sun and the birds. I dressed as quietly and got ready to leave as possible. The dog did wake and tried to follow me to the door, the expression on his face indicating he thought it was a strange time for a walk but he’s ride or die. Upon realizing he wasn’t coming, he happily took my place in the bed and returned to snoring. I slipped out the door and began my half mile walk. There’s a certain romanticism around 4 in the morning. I visit this time like a love affair that never quite worked because of the inconvenience. The world is dark and still, it belonged to me and me alone. 4am feels like being in a mall or a theme park after hours, only that it’s the entire world that’s gone away. I made my way the familiar path from my house to the town center, aware of the absence of all the small noises of life. It was refreshing, soothing, energizing. I dreamt of maybe find a way to visit this time more often in my life. But now as I write a day later and my circadian rhythm is still resetting the idea is less appealing.

I arrived and stood in the line to check in. I couldn’t help observing the other people that were there. Who were they, what was their relationship to the organization. Some were clearly high school students collecting volunteer service hours for credit, but for the adults were harder to pick out. Who was here because it was court ordered; who was like me because they believed in the cause? How many of them had be helped by the organization and were volunteering because they’d found community and purpose within the ranks? I’m a people watcher at heart, I love to observe and see how much I can figure out about a person. Everyone has a story and I enjoy imagining what it could possibly be.

Once we were all checked in, we got to work setting up the finisher zone, getting water and snacks ready, posting signage, and preparing the “chuck a duck” area. Pretty simple stuff, nothing unfamiliar for someone with an extensive background in events. Where I was helping move cases of water, a man was doing his best to organize the setup. I quickly picked up on what he was trying to accomplish and began directing others to help me with the projects. Soon he was delegating to me and I would then turn to my small team to get it done. I was surprised to find out later that he was just another volunteer and not part of the organization’s staff. Just goes to show that most people are more interested in being told what to do than to be the one that takes control.

Once set up was complete we were given our duties for the race itself. Most of us became Course Monitors. We were to stand along the route, assist in traffic management and just keep an eye on the runners. With some time to kill, my team and I got some coffee and chatted, getting to know one another. I became self conscious of the fact that I can no longer talk to teenagers as if they were peers. Instead I began to chat with a woman who I discovered was here on vacation. She shared with me her tales of traveling  and volunteering. I found that to be such an extraordinary and novel concept. Really though, what better way to see a city and get to know the people than through service?

The sun finally began to rise, which caused the area to be enveloped with fog and the temperature which had been comfortably chilly all morning seemed to have dipped. Luckily it had cleared up nicely by the time the race started and even warmed up. A crowd of spectators mingled along side us volunteers and it began to feel very familiar. The runners were off and as they passed I gave my best efforts to hoot and holler and cheer them on. I ran out of things to shout pretty quickly but so what, there’s no need to be novel and inventive when yelling at a running mob. It was when we got down to the very back of the pack with all the slowest of the walkers and it no longer felt appropriate to call “Go runner, go!” that my enthusiasm waned. The final walker passed, followed by the sweep car and we asked each other “Ok, now what?”.

I never thought about these things as a runner. What are all these people doing when we’re not running through? What do they do when the pack has passed? There wasn’t much course equipment to be packed up, especially where we stood. So I grabbed a trash bag and wandered around collecting whatever litter found, even though I guessed that over half of it wasn’t from the race. I don’t understand litter. I don’t get why people think it’s ok to just leave garbage laying around. This area in particular has trash bins all around and the neighborhood is full of affluent, educated folk. Is the idea of carrying your rubbish a few feet to the next bin that foreign?

Once I got to the point where I was probably picking up garbage from the New Year celebration I decided to sit for the first time since I’d arrived. At this point runners were crossing and participating in the various activities set up, including “Chuck a Duck” in which people gave a donation to throw a rubber duckie into a duck shaped pool float in hopes to be entered into a raffle. A volunteer sat alone manning the station so I joined him and struck up a conversation. Everything about him said veteran and sure enough we discovered that we had a lot in common because of the military. He told me of his ambitions to work as an EMT but how dismal the pay is. This baffles me. How do we still under-compensate vital professions like this? Why is it that if you exist at the bottom of the ladder, no matter how important your job is, you get the smallest crumb of the cake? This led to a political discussion, intermixed with snarky observations about misbehaving children. Something about those who come from the military community, we all seem to have a very similar sense of humor.

Once the event wrapped and the crowd dissipated we began to take it all back down. Strike is always my favorite part of event production, just tear it apart and put it away. We chased down duck faced balloons out of the fountain and bushes. Chairs and tables stacked and returned to their respective owners. The big truck arrived and several of us jumped in and began stacking cases of drinks on to pallets. Things were going smoothly until a sense of urgency moved through the group as they realized how close they were to clock out time. Suddenly the cases were coming on to the truck faster than we could stack, bottles were falling all over, the stacks were getting uneven and unstable. I had to take over in calling out what to pass up to the truck loaders but even still people were just putting whatever they had in their hands on the lift gate. And then our crowd of volunteers suddenly disappeared even though not everything was packed away. By 5 minutes til clock out, most of them were in the line to sign out.

We managed to get it done, even though by the end we were having to get pretty creative about how we were stacking things in the truck. If I’d known how much was going it, I would have been a little more diligent about how the truck pack would have gone in the beginning. Truck loading is, after all, a skill proficiency for my industry. With a little creativity and skill we got it all loaded and were done. I felt about as tired and ready for a shower had I run the race myself. The event was a wonderful success, the participants all seemed to really enjoy themselves and over $60k was raised for a particularly important cause. So grateful to have been a part and am looking forward to being a part of more.

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