You come home at the end of another long day, sit down to an excellent dinner prepared by your “stay at home Dad” husband, go for your family evening walk, bathe your son, read him a book, and after he’s in bed, then curl up with your — Facebook.
You do too, you do! I see you there.
And what do you see but that amazing Cheryl Helmick talking about her annual family fundraiser for charity. What!?!? Annual fundraiser? For the holidays? First, it’s too awesome for words that her family does this, and second, how does such a busy lady organize such an activity for years and years? I sat down with her to get the scoop.
Hi Cheryl! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me! When did you first start doing a charity event for the holidays and why?
My husband’s family came to visit us in Pennsylvania from Kansas City for Christmas in 2013. Brian had started doing 5Ks, etc. and his family wanted to do a run with him while they were out here. However, we could not find one in the time frame they were in town. A friend suggested we make our own up! I started brain storming. I had t-shirts made (Thank goodness All America Graphics was still in business, and I remembered their name from using them for clubs at Cedar Crest!), and we mapped out a 5K route for the runners and a 1 mile route for the walkers at a local park. We invited friends and coworkers to join us. I thought long and hard about what to do for the bibs but finally decided to make my own. Instead of numbers, I wrote out Christmas and winter items such as mittens, hot cocoa, santa, Rudolph, snowflake, etc. I didn’t think anyone would show up but people actually came out, and we had a great time! It snowed a lot that week but amazingly the actual day of our run was warm and sunny; we lucked out! We invited everyone back to our house for lunch after the run.
How did this become an annual event?
At that Christmas run, a friend suggested we do this every year. We called it the Helmick Holiday Fun Run so she suggested doing a different holiday each year. My mom suggested turning the next one into a fundraising event. In November of 2014, we did a turkey trot for Thanksgiving. The bibs that year had harvest, turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, cornucopia, etc. on them. We collected food and money for a local food bank, Second Harvest.
In June of 2015, we did a Flag Day run. We collected money for a veterans group, Operation Enduring Warrior. The bibs that year were different flags (USA, other countries, states, pirate, golf, race car, etc.). Since it was summer, we took advantage of a new course at the local park and utilized the rail trail. Everyone got a flag as they crossed the finish line.
This year’s run was the Haunted Helmick Holiday held October 8, 2016. We wanted glow in the dark things so we did it later in the evening. The local park closed at dusk so we moved the run to the school that is behind our house. We mapped out routes for the runners and walkers again. I had to find a different t-shirt company (Physical Graffi-Tees) because my regular one did not have glow in the dark ink. This year’s bibs I did numbers with glow in the dark paint and then decorated them with Halloween stickers. Our charity this year was Laurel House because domestic violence is scary. Everyone got a glow in the dark wand, axe, flower, necklace, etc. for crossing the finish line.
How do you pick what organization will benefit?
I choose an organization based on the event. Thanksgiving I thought of the food bank. I picked one in Allentown that I had heard of before. For Flag Day, I wanted a veterans group. I called around to a few places in the Lehigh Valley but no one returned my message about collecting donations for their organization. Brian’s coworker suggested Operation Enduring Warrior because lots of her friends supported them. I had wanted to do Laurel House to help with domestic violence. My tag line of domestic violence is scary just came to me one day so I thought it was perfect for the Halloween run.
Do the organizations know you do this event, and if yes, what do they think about it?
No, they do not know about this event. Second Harvest was very thankful for the amount we donated that year. We collected over 70 pounds of food plus cash donations.
We collected over $500 in cash and were able to do a company match through my husband’s work for OEW.
We collected over $400 in cash, $40 in gift cards, plus cleaning supplies, pillows, and feminine products for Laurel House. We are also hoping to get the company match for this.
I also sent out a link for people to donate to the charity even if they could not attend the run. I had family from Kansas City also support us this way!
Do you ever have to poke anyone and remind them to pony up the funds?
Brian and I ask people who order a t-shirt to pay for it (we pay the screen fee). I have never had to ask twice for anyone’s money, they bring it the day of the run. We just sent an e-mail or Facebook post about what we were collecting each year for which charity and at our house after the run we have a jar to collect money or a box for the items collected. Each time I’m blown away by the generosity of our friends! Brian and I get the food and drinks after the run to thank everyone for attending. It’s nice to have a little party at the house!
How do you organize things every year?
I plan this out months ahead of time! Once it was determined we were going to do this each year I have to come up with ideas. I started out brainstorming holidays – Bunny Hop for Easter, Earth Day, Arbor Day, Cinco De Mayo, Valentine’s Day, etc. I ask people for suggestions too. Someone suggested grandparents’ day when I said the more obscure the better! I have to come up with t-shirt designs, etc. for a few of them. Valentine’s Day I have all planned what I want for the t-shirt (Lover’s Lane is what I want to call it), where to have it (was thinking indoors for this one and instead of a run maybe doing relays or something with partners), and the charity (The MS Society because it’s near and dear to my heart – my aunt has MS). I try to space them out so they are not too close together (do not want one in February if I had one in November, etc.).
I have fun planning these! It’s fun working with people for ideas on the t-shirt design, the bibs, etc. I don’t show people what they are ahead of time. It’s a surprise for everyone when they come! Brian and I have always hosted parties at our place. Our parties have now turned into the runs. I say the run, but it’s a run or a walk. Even if people don’t want to come to the park, I invite them to the house afterwards. When we had the runs at the park, people would stop and ask me about what we were doing. They thought it was neat! Jane, at the t-shirt company, always seems excited each year what we are doing this time!
I owe a huge thanks to Brian. He helps clean the house, cook (he’s the cook in our house, I do NOT cook or bake), and puts up with me if I have a slight break down because something did not go right (this year’s t-shirts almost did not get done in time due to some communication errors with the company). This year was less stress though because the run was in the evening. We had more time to prepare.
What are the benefits of doing something like this?
This is just for fun! It gets people out running or walking, but it’s not a competition or anything. I find it fun to get together with friends, to hang out and talk to everyone. The fact that we also are helping others with the donations is an added bonus. I feel good about helping others. I believe the low key aspect of it helps with donations. We didn’t ask for a certain amount or so much per mile, etc. We just ask for a donation if you can. It’s sort of anonymous too-I have no idea who put what in the jar.
Each year we get a different turn out. We have had 20-30 people each year.
If people wanted to start something similar, what tips would you give them?
I learned if you want to do something and you can’t find it, just start your own! Just do it yourself!
I had no idea people would show up that year at Christmas! I thought they were nuts. It was winter. Why would anyone want to be outside, who would want to run or walk? I hate the cold. I’d like to hibernate all winter if possible. I also am not a runner so I didn’t understand how anyone would want to do this. I was shocked it was a success AND that people wanted to do it the next year!
Things don’t have to be perfect or professionally done. I hand make the bibs out of cut Tyvek envelopes. I hole punch them and add safety pins (which everyone is very kind to return after the run so I’ve only bought 1 box that’s lasted me 4 years so far). The point of this is to have fun and see friends.
You can save money by having it potluck, having a picnic outdoors where you don’t have to clean your house or if you don’t have the space to host, etc. There are ways around obstacles, you just have to think it through.
Everyone always volunteers to bring things every year for our run. I just personally find it easier to do it myself. After the run, everyone comes back to our house and we eat. Everyone is nice and helps set food out and always offer to help clean up. Let people help at your event whether it’s setting up, cleaning up, etc. Sharing the work will help with time, stress, etc. Some people are better at things than others-play up to people’s strengths! I’m an organizer and always have 50 to-do lists around.
Plan ahead, be prepared, etc. We make as much food as possible the night before. Crock pots are great! And there is nothing wrong with store bought, paper plates, and plastic silverware. For food after the run, quick and easy is the best. People just exercised. They don’t want to wait around for something to cook, etc. Whatever your event is, details will be different though. Our run was in October but I sent graphic ideas to the t-shirt company at the end of July (this was a little early but we also happened to be getting new flooring in the house and I’d be without a computer – well, really, I’d be without a house – for a month!).
Brian and I work second shift. We are the opposite of the rest of the world so it’s hard sometimes trying to get in touch with people, but we make it work. I do have to say thank goodness for technology! I can be online and e-mail people at 4am. I do a lot of things from my iPhone. I have clip art saved for t-shirt design ideas for future runs, etc.
If you need an item for an event, ask around. You probably do not need to buy anything, I bet someone has something you could borrow. Or ask that really talented crafty friend of yours if they could make something for you. Or ask that coworker who makes amazing cupcakes if they’d help you out. If you are stuck for an idea, ask others for their opinions. All of our event came from other people’s input! It’s been a great experience, and it’s neat to see how it’s evolved over the years.
What do y’all have going on this year?
2016’s run is over but…save the date, next year the run will be May 6, 2017, back at the local park. Join us Cinco De Mayo for the 5th Annual Helmick Holiday Fun Run/Walk!! A friend was a genius and pointed out that we had to do Cinco De Mayo because it was our 5th year. Brian and I have discussed the t-shirt design, and I know what I want to get for crossing the finish line. I’m still working on a charity for this holiday. I was thinking an organization that helps immigrants. If anyone has any ideas, please send them my way! Several of our coworkers and friends were not born in the US. Their stories of how they got here, how they learned English, and how they adapted to the culture are inspirational. I’m in awe.
How could the Notable Woman audience support your event?
Donations to the charities are always appreciated.
Second Harvest – http://www.shfblv.org
Operation Enduring Warrior – http://enduringwarrior.org
Laurel House – http://laurel-house.org
Look out for more info for our run in 2017. If there’s a charity you would like to recommend for future runs, let me know. Our event is a success because of the loving people that surround us. They come out to run or walk for a day and open their hearts and their wallets to help others in need. I’m hoping to continue this event. I need our friends, coworkers, and family to still keep coming (or let me know when it’s run its course). People seemed to still be into it for next year. I had people who came in the past that were bummed they couldn’t make it this year.
Thank you so much, Cheryl! This is really awesome, and kudos to you for doing this event.
Thank you! Thank you for making our run seen by so many people. I hope to inspire someone to come up with their own event or fundraiser. I’d be glad to help anyone in any way possible-ideas, help, space to have an event, etc.