While normally Thanksgiving is considered to be a day of a lot of food and family, some wake up in the early hours of the morning to participate in what is known as a “turkey trot”— a footrace of a normally long-distanced variety held on Thanksgiving day.
Locally, the Arlington Turkey Trot draws more than 4,000 participants each Thanksgiving morning in a 5K run or walk through the Lyon Park and Ashton Heights neighborhoods and a portion of Columbia Gardens. According to their website, the Arlington Turkey Trot has the shared goal of “helping neighbors in need” by benefiting local charities and community organizations.
Founded in 2006 by pastor Brian Webster and his wife Diane of Christ Church of Arlington, the Trot has generated over $1 million to help Arlington County residents in need. This year’s theme of the trot is “Community Partners United in Service to Others,” which celebrates the 5K’s tradition of “giving and thankfulness” by raising funds for 18 local nonprofits, including the Arlington Food Assistance Center, Bridges to Independence and more.
Mark Riley is a member of Christ Church of Arlington, as well as being the race director of the turkey trot — also known as the “Chief Turkey” — since 2013. Riley became involved with the trot in 2006 after being on the board for Doorways for Women and Families — one of the two initial beneficiaries of the 5K. He became a part of the organizing committee shortly after.
“The [Arlington Turkey Trot] is a vehicle to organize community resources, to instill family fun and to address charitable needs,” Riley said.
Riley stated his favorite part of being the “Chief Turkey” of the trot is “being with people in the community who love to have fun, who love tradition and who love to help others.”
Jasmine Piggie is the development coordinator at Bridges to Independence, one of the 18 nonprofit organizations that is receiving funds from the Arlington Turkey Trot. Bridges to Independence is the largest operating family shelter in Arlington County and serves individuals, families and traditional youth who are experiencing homelessness.
Piggie said the Arlington Turkey Trot is important to Bridges because it helps the families who use the organization. Some of the programs offered at Bridges to Independence, such as their youth and workforce development programs, are not funded by government grants. Fundraisers such as the local turkey trot help the organization receive funding to be able to provide for the families that use it.
“Going to events like the Arlington Turkey Trot is important because [people are] helping us make a difference in individuals’ lives who really need it,” Piggie said.
Charles Meng is the CEO of Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), a nonprofit which has been involved with the Arlington Turkey Trot since 2009. AFAC has provided groceries to families in need; Meng said a few weeks ago they served 2,516 families.
When it comes to income, Meng said AFAC depends on food donations, volunteer services and private donations made by individuals and organizations such as the Arlington Turkey Trot. AFAC’s goal this year is to raise $8.5 million with the help of the trot, with Meng stating that every donation “no matter the size” helps.
“Getting our name out into the community always helps build support,” Meng said, “and the [Arlington] Turkey Trot helps us do that.”
Regarding this year’s theme, Riley said the goal of the trot is focusing on helping people in the community who “need a hand up.” This includes partnering with the church, Amazon, the Arlington Community Foundation and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, along with the 18 nonprofits, the sponsors, registrants and volunteers .
For this year and for future years, Riley said he recommends people to register for the Arlington Turkey Trot due to the “fun and joy” it brings, such as seeing the “joyous looks” on people’s faces when they cross the finish line or receive their medals. Seventeen years later and Riley stated he sees former teenage participants taking their children to be a part of the trot.
“The family tradition is amazing,” Riley said. “The people that know it and love it will not miss it and will be here every single year.”