Meriden's 25th annual Walk for Warmth, first 5K were a success

CAFCA | March 27, 2014 |

 Saturday dawned bright and chilly, to the relief of the runners in the 25th annual Walk for Warmth’s first ever 5-kilometer race.

The fund-raising walk pays for heating expenses for families who can’t afford them. About 100 families will receive funds from the Walk for Warmth, said Larry Elliott, director of New Opportunities Community Services. Elliot, who participated in the walk, said the support was especially needed this year after such a harsh, relentless winter.

“There was great participation and collaboration,” Elliott said. “It’s all about the community coming together.”

Forecasts had called for rain, so the chilly morning was accepted by those who would be making the first run through downtown Meriden. Mayor Manny Santos and City Councilor Miguel Castro were on hand for the event, which started at 10 a.m. at First Congregational Church. Santos did the 3k walk; Castro ran the 5k. Santos said he was glad the rain held out even through it was a brisk morning. Santos he was glad to see so many people turn out for the Walk for Warmth.

Judah Lopez, of Wallingford, and Jaime Fisher, of Meriden, were warming up in the minutes before the 5k began. Both women have new babies, both about 6 months old, and said it was their first 5k and for a good cause.

“We thought it would be fun,” Fisher said. “I’m grateful for her (Lopez’s) encouragement.”

Both women said they were happy it didn’t rain, but wished it was a little warmer out. Seth Duke, director of communication for New Opportunities, said about 350 walkers and runners were at the event and 60 volunteers, and adding the 5k event this year made for a much better turnout.

About 21 streets were closed for a short time for the race. Duke said it wouldn’t have been possible without the support from the city and Meriden Police Department. Cruisers were at the front and back of both groups to provide security and pace the participants. Captain Pat Gaynor and Lt. Steve Lespier led the logistical planning of the event, Duke said. The runners took one course through downtown, and the walkers another.

After the two groups took off, the volunteers rushed to set up the finish line and get food and drinks ready for the runners and walkers as they made their way back. Duke said more than 1,000 hours of volunteer time went into the event.

The crowd cheered as Derek Destefano, of Meriden, crossed the line first with a time of 18.24.

Destefano said he runs 5ks and heard about the Walk for Warmth online and decided to make it his first race of the season. Timothy Beach, of Prospect, came in second with a time of 21.27 and Ben Neumon finished third. Castro came in fourth. Beach said he is “running brothers” with Castro and he enjoyed the run on Saturday. Castro said the course was clean and well guarded by police.

“It’s my kind of weather for running,” Castro said. “The (police department) did an outstanding job preparing and providing the service.”

Castro said the event put Meriden in a “good spot” and promotes the city well.

“When we do something, we raise the bar,” Castro said.

After the run and walk, the group went into the First Congregational Church for food, an auction and raffles and kid-friendly activities. The event raised more than $10,000, Duke said.