For the second consecutive year, hundreds of people participated in the Reindeer Run sponsored by Palm Harbor United Methodist Church. The multilevel race was held Dec. 3 to kick off the Christmas season and raise awareness and funds for issues related to human trafficking.
“It was extremely successful. The community really got out there,” Palm Harbor UMC public relations coordinator Jessica Petot said. “People were running in red and green outfits, elf outfits, red and green tutus.
“It was a lot of fun. Not only did it bring awareness to human trafficking, but it also brought fellowship.”
The race was sponsored by Duke Energy and several other companies. Organizers were still determining the proceeds raised when this story was written in December 2016.
Coordinated by volunteers on the church's mission team, the 2015 race attracted nearly 500 runners and raised more than $8,600 for Intercultural Advocacy Institute (ICAI), located at 612 Franklin St., in Clearwater, which works with the Clearwater Police Department when victims are rescued from human trafficking situations.
ICAI helps clients locate the services they need, from legal aid and health counseling to family and youth services and interpreters. The organization's vision is “a unified, peaceful and engaged community, where all individuals may contribute their talents free of discrimination based on language, race, culture or ethnicity,” according to its website.
“They find out the root of the problem and help them break the cycle,” Petot said of ICAI.
In a church with about 1,000 people who attend Sunday services, race organizers were thrilled with turnout both years.
“We were very surprised (last year),” Petot said. “We were expecting it would be a 'good race' and then it just kept growing. We were overjoyed.”
The 2016 race attracted more than 500 participants, ranging in age from 2-years-old to mid-80s. One man raced on his 82nd birthday.
The race is held on the Pinellas Trail. Competition begins and ends at Pop Stansell Park on the waterfront in downtown Palm Harbor.
Contributions come from entry fees for three divisions of the race. In 2016 there was a five-kilometer (timed) race, a one-mile fun run and a tot trot for youngsters ages 2 to 8. The entry fee for the 5K is $25.
Church members are embarking on a project to “virtually walk” 6,625 miles from Palm Harbor to Jerusalem from Jan. 15 through April 9 (Palm Sunday).
Participants “earn” steps and miles for strenuous activities, everything from baseball to vacuuming. Faith community nurses will tally the results “and hopefully we'll be able to have virtually walked from Palm Harbor to Jerusalem,” Petot said.
--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.