By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Every penny in proceeds from Saturday’s fourth annual 5K “Race to End Hunger” will go toward helping Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County brace itself for what is likely to be an onslaught of pleas for assistance, particularly if lawmakers in Washington soon vote to cut food stamp benefits.
The downtown race is in conjunction with the WaterFire Sharon events and as of Tuesday, 275 runners and walkers were already preregistered, said Mimi Prada, the agency’s public relations coordinator. That is more than participated in the race last year, when proceeds reached about $35,000, she said. This year, the agency has set a goal of $40,000 and plans to make sure that 100 percent of the money raised is used to supply food to area pantries, she said.
Numbers of residents who ask for help from the 13 food pantries and 32 agencies across the county have held steady in the last year, aside from a spike in late December, according to Lori Weston, director of the food warehouse.
“We help about 4,000 households countywide. But if they cut food stamps, it’s going to be devastating to some families and in turn, those who will now need help will overwhelm the agencies,” Weston said.
The proposed $20 billion cut will amount to about a $25 a month reduction to a family of three, but Weston said the loss will hurt.
“And I read somewhere that federal officials said ‘Charity can pick up the rest.’ Well, charity cannot pick up the rest, especially when now they want to cut the tax breaks that corporations get for donating to hunger programs,” she added.
Legislators said they don’t expect to vote on the food stamp program much before the current farm bill, which includes provisions for food stamps, expires on Sept. 30. Local food bank operators were told to write their legislators before July 26 and encourage them to vote against the cuts, Weston said.
The race is the first event of Saturday’s festivities, which culminate with the lighting of the braziers in the Shenango River at dusk, Prada said, and she’s hopeful more runners and walkers than ever before will participate. Particularly special, she said, is the effort made by some of the participants for whom it isn’t so easy.
“We have a guy, Ken Swartz, who is in a wheelchair. He suffers from cerebral palsy. He was in the race the first year and this year, he’s back. He’s already raised $500 in sponsorships. He’s just amazing and he’ll do the two miles in his wheelchair, with his mom, Carol, helping,” Prada said.
There is also a group of 33 children from the Prime Time/After Shock after-school program in Reynolds, most of whom receive benefits themselves, who have been raising money to join in the race. “They held a car wash and other stuff to raise the $18 for each child to register. They made their own shirts. They want to give back to the community,” Prada said.
The winners of each age group in the race will be given a chance to be a torchbearer in the WaterFire opening ceremony, she said.
Registration for the race begins at 9 a.m. in the Sharon City Centre parking lot. The course map is available on the warehouse’s website, www.foodwarehouse.org.