The Running of the Balls in Greensboro isn't really about the running.
What the event Dec. 16 beneath the lighted tree balls in the Sunset Hills neighborhood is really about is holiday fun – and feeding people through the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina.
"This is a short-term solution for a long-term problem: Hunger here in the northwestern Piedmont in North Carolina," says Running of the Balls director Nick Loflin. "There has never been more of a need here in the Piedmont of North Carolina for folks who are struggling with food insecurity. For every dollar we give them, they're now able to give six meals to folks in need."
Second Harvest, based in Winston-Salem, is seeing crises for many families and record-high numbers of food assistance requests, writes Jenny Moore, director of communications and public relations, via email.
"In October (November numbers remain incomplete), our network served more than 73,000 different people – 60 percent more than this time last year," Moore writes. "The year-over-year numbers are staggering, but of course, it is the human toll that is of greatest concern."
The event has raised enough food and monetary donations to serve more than 5 million meals, Moore writes.
The 12th Running of the Balls will send runners and walkers throughout Sunset Hills, where collection bins are out to receive canned good donations from motorists and pedestrians during December. Loflin expects the field to reach its capacity any day. (If you want to sign up, click below).
"We're probably going to top out around 4,000 or 5,000 people that are going to run the balls," he said.
Loflin, 45, a city resident and a Greensboro Fire Department captain, took his idea for a race in fall 2011 to Anne and Jonathan Smith, who started the nationally famous tradition in the trees, and asked if they thought the Sunset Hills Neighborhood Association would support a fundraiser for Second Harvest.
It seemed unlikely, Loflin says Anne Smith told him.
Loflin says he caught a break at the next association meeting. The association opened the agenda by dealing with a couple of challenges confronting the neighborhood. By the time Loflin and Anne Smith presented the idea, the association was eager to hear something positive.
"Everybody in the room said, 'That's a great idea; let's do it,'" Loflin said.
And the Running of the Balls came to life in 2011, expecting 750 participants and winding up with 1,500.
Loflin continues to work with the association and with Sunset Hills resident John Kelly, who handles decorating the trees in the parks.
Participants this year can expect to see two additional stages featuring even more music along the course and, of course, more lighted tree balls. And more sponsors, he says.
"What we're really trying to do is to make a kind of a joyful holiday tradition for folks and their families," Loflin says.
What participants should not expect is to run a PR, given that Loflin says he's not even sure how long the course is and that it's considered a 5K-ish run.
"No," he says, "we actually tell folks if they're coming out to get their personal best, they're going to be sorely disappointed. We do not time. We do not actually know the exact distance. We don't hold you to exactly how far you've got to run. If you want to take two laps and call it a night, rock and roll. If you want to take one lap and walk the rest of it, do your thing.
"It is a race in name only. It's really an excuse to come out and have some fun."
And to support Second Harvest.
"Running of the Balls is a truly special annual event organized by a group of incredibly dedicated people and supported by the entire Sunset Hills neighborhood," Moore writes. "This kind of support for our mission, support that we can count on year after year, is vital to our work, especially in these challenging times for so many families. We are grateful to the volunteer leaders, the neighbors, and the sponsors who bring this event to life."
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