Feed the Need 5K and Fun Run is Saturday morning

Organizers are challenging runners to “race to the finish line of hunger” Saturday during the fourth annual Feed the Need 5K and Fun Run.

Dubbed the “Sprint for Students” on T-shirts designed for 2017 participants, the 5K and 1-mile Fun Run raises money for the Putnam County School District backpack program, which provides bags of food for Putnam students to take home on the weekends.

Nikki Cummings, Putnam County School District board member and Feed the Need volunteer, said the event raises awareness for the backpack program each year.

“Several people come from out of town just because they want to run a 5K, and then they learn about the program and become involved,” Cummings said.

Last year, the event resulted in $10,000 for Feed the Need.

The backpack program started in a Putnam classroom about eight years ago and has grown into a districtwide charitable program.

District nutrition director Nikki Hawthorne said in December teachers and school counselors identified more than 650 students who would benefit from the backpack program during the 2016-2017 school year, and the need continues to grow. 

Cummings said on Wednesday the program currently benefits about 800 students.

Monetary donations and proceeds from the Feed the Need 5K and Fun Run contribute to purchasing food items for Putnam’s students. 

Snack packs are provided by Feeding Northeast Florida, containing breakfast food and snacks, while donated and purchased food supply two lunches and two dinners for each weekend backpack program recipients. 

Volunteers also supplement the take-home bags before holidays and breaks from school.  

Cummings said organizers expect several new Putnam elementary school running clubs will participate in the race this year, raising awareness for each school. She said the school with the most participants wins $500 each year.

“This is an event that not only promotes awareness,” Cummings said. “It’s a fun event that encourages healthy lifestyles in our community and for our students. And the money goes toward a great program.”

The Feed the Need 5K starts at the Palatka Riverfront at 8 a.m. Saturday, and the Fun Run begins at 9 a.m. Registration is available the same day as the event, 6:45-7:40 a.m., but T-shirts are not guaranteed. Registration is $20 for the 5K and $10 for the Fun Run.