Early last month, the Haddonfield Memorial High School boys’ cross country team shook off the rust from pandemic-delayed training to put together a July mileage challenge for the benefit of Interfaith Caregivers.
Competition is the essence of improvement and achievement, so, not to be outdone by their male counterparts, the girls’ cross country team has banded together for a five-week charity endeavor of its own. Dubbed Miles for Meals, the five-week campaign will benefit Camden’s Cathedral Kitchen.
“Our team was really excited about this. There are a lot of things we cannot do right now, but it’s something we can be enthusiastic about,” said Olivia Stoner, a rising senior, team captain and campaign coordinator. “We have the attitude of, ‘We can’t let the boys win,’ but there’s also that spirit of giving back.”
The lady harriers got back into the swing of things after a layoff during the week of July 13, and will keep ticking off the miles, both individually and collectively, through Aug. 14.
The team asks family, friends and neighbors to collectively match a runner’s total five-week mileage with food, pantry, health and hygiene items needed to support Cathedral Kitchen’s mission, to end hunger by utilizing food as a source of nourishment and professional development.
“We didn’t want to do the same thing (as the boys), a simple collection of money. Originally, the coach suggested they could do a canned-food drive, but it’s a little too early,” added adult coordinator Caroll Stoner.
“So we decided to go this other route,” she added. “The reason I picked it was that at my husband’s work, there’s a woman who ran a food drive previously during COVID; that’s why it became a tangible option.”
Cathedral Kitchen, whose executive director, Carrie Kitchen-Santiago, is a Haddonfield resident and proud alumna of the high school, has been hit hard by the COVID-related closures.
“Food insecurity has increased in the region due to the pandemic and its impact on unemployment, so the meals and food that Cathedral Kitchen distributes on site and in communities throughout Camden is more needed than ever,” Kitchen-Santiago noted.
Items needed for collection include: Individually wrapped granola bars, protein bars, trail mix, bottled waters, sample-size shampoo, hand sanitizer, lotion, toothpaste, soaps, full-size deodorant, disposable razors, toothbrushes, washcloths, face masks and new men’s socks. All items pledged will be collected beginning Aug. 16.
“The Kitchen not only gives out 200 to 300 hot, to-go meals daily, six days a week, but we rely on donations for bags that volunteers assemble at the Kitchen and hand out to guests,” Kitchen-Santiago explained. “These to-go bags are important because they provide food to the guests to sustain them until their next meal.”
According to a recent release from the Camden nonprofit, its CK Cafe closed following lunch service on July 24 and will remain shuttered for the remainder of the summer. Plans are in the works to reopen in the fall with take-home, rather than in-person, dining.
No course is ever run without an effective game plan, and naturally, goals for individual and collective achievement were set by the cross-country team.
“What we came up with – averaged for 24 girls on the team – would be 30 miles per week over the next five weeks, which equals about 3,600 miles and 3,600 individual food and toiletry items,” Stoner said. “It would be great to meet or surpass that goal.”
Can the team accomplish all that, given how hot and humid it’s been for the last six weeks?
“This summer has been something else. But this is who we are; we’re Haddonfield born-and-bred,” Stoner stated.
“This is a really good opportunity to give back and to work on something bigger than ourselves,” she added. “I think people, especially in the situation we are in now, want to be able to give back any way they can. The people we know are committed to this idea as well. It’s been a really good buy-in.”
The team will have six days to gather up the goods, then distribute them directly to Cathedral Kitchen at its East Camden headquarters.
“We are going to deliver them on Aug. 22 as part of their camp week (which is happening along with the boys because their camps were cancelled). We will be physically delivering all the stuff in cars, with whoever on the team wishes to come along,” said Caroll.