PISCATAWAY, NJ—Just minutes before starting off nearly 200 runners and 100 walkers ready for a 5K Turkey Trot/1-Mile Fun Walk on November 21, the race director told them the organization they were supporting had opened its Hub City soup kitchen a record 31 times last year as an overnight shelter for people in need.
Jim Zullo is the head of Elijah’s Promise, the city-based food justice organization that has operated in New Brunswick since 1989. One of many services they provide is shelter on nights when the temperature turns frigid or snow falls.
“We had as many as 40 people [stay overnight],” said Zullo, who served as the Elijah’s Promise Turkey Trot race director, thanking everybody for supporting the non-profit and its mission.
“You are our community, you are our supporters. You allow us to do what we do. So, on behalf of myself, our staff, our board of directors … I can’t thank you enough,” said Zullo.
The annual event, now in its seventh season, added the 5k run for the first time this year, along with a “Chili Cook-Off,” following the run and walk. Both the 5k and the walk started at the same time.
It was held in Johnson Park, located in Piscataway, for the first time. Previously, it had been held across the river in New Brunswick’s Buccleuch Park.
“This is the first time it’s a 5k, it used to be just a walk and now it’s a 5k,” Zullo told New Brunswick Today while setting up tables at the event site an hour before the scheduled 9 a.m. participant check-in.
Given the bright, cool autumn day, he predicted an excellent “day of” or so called “race-day” registration among both walkers and runners to top off the outstanding pre-registration numbers.
“We will have a pretty good turn out so it should be fun,” Zullo said.
BEST Race Systems, the timing and scoring company on site, said that 80 people pre-registered for the walk, while a race volunteer bringing race-day registrations to the BEST van said about another 40 registered on site.
Zullo explained that the event is of great help to Elijah’s Promise because it raises funds specifically for the soup kitchen and the “Code: Blue” program.
On winter nights when the temperature drops below 20 degrees or snow is expected, the community kitchen is open overnight.
“Anybody that is homeless can come in and get out of the cold,” Zullo said.
A local runner, 30-year-old Richard Luettchao, won the 5k in 16:03.
Asked why he chose the race, he said he lives in Metuchen but runs in Johnson Park often and saw signs a couple of weeks ago while training.
He said he also ran a race in the park on Haloween, but it was not as well organized.
“It is always nice to help a great cause,” said Luettchao.
“A small registration fee, I know, can go a long way. It was a good race; good competition,” he said.
He expects to run again in the Big Chill on December 5, a much larger charity 5k run and walk in New Brunswick every winter. Luettchao says he’s taken part in the Big Chill for the past seven years.
This year’s Big Chill will mark its 13th year and 7,000 people have already registered, according to Rutgers Recreation department.
Complete Elijah’s Promise 5K race results can be viewed online at: www.bestrace.com/results/15/151121EP5.HTM.
To register for the 13th annual Big Chill visit: http://recreation.rutgers.edu/big-chill/
Dave is an award-winning business reporter who has authored over 200 articles for New Brunswick Today.