Wednesday, 08 November 2017 04:46

Thanksgiving 5K continues a run of great things

Written by  Lee Sullivan
Angels & Sparrows Soup Kitchen Executive Director Sandy Tilley (left), Assistant Director Emily Carleo and their legions of volunteers serve thousands of meals each year to the community’s neediest. Angels & Sparrows Soup Kitchen Executive Director Sandy Tilley (left), Assistant Director Emily Carleo and their legions of volunteers serve thousands of meals each year to the community’s neediest. Lee Sullivan

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- From the simplest of seeds, the greatest things grow.

Back in 2007, all Sandy Tilley knew for sure is that she wanted to do something to help feed the hungry. She didn’t know how, had no idea where, and wasn’t exactly sure who to turn to for help.

“It was just something I felt I should do,” Tilley, founder and executive director of the Angels & Sparrows Soup Kitchen in Huntersville, says about the earliest steps in her quest.

“All I can say is that God was involved,” she adds. “It is something that started from nothing by a nobody. I didn’t know the people and they didn’t know me, but they had to sense I was planning to do the right thing. People donated and supported the plan.”

In less than three months, after churches and individuals endorsed her vision, Tilley raised more than $87,000 and, less than a year later, Angels & Sparrows served its first meals.
“It’s a God thing, and it’s been that way from the start,” Tilley says. “There’s no other way to explain it.”

Now, the Angels & Sparrows non-profit organization provides lunch, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., every weekday, holidays included. Tilley and Assistant Director Emily Carleo oversee kitchen operations and manage a roster of 200 volunteers to make sure a nine-member team is assigned each day to prepare, serve, clean up and get things ready for the next day.

In 2015, Angels & Sparrows served 43,000 meals. The next year, 53,000. And in addition to providing food for 120 to 175 people every weekday, the organization prepared 18,000 bagged lunches this summer for needy children in the region.

“There are needs here, in Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson,” Tilley says “People may not see it every day, but there are people who can use a helping hand in every community.”
And from the beginning, churches, civic groups (like the North Mecklenburg Woman’s Club) and corporations (like Ingersoll Rand) provided volunteers and financial assistance, and grocery stores donated food (Target, Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s combined to provide around $350,000 of food last year). Those groups, and streams of individuals, have pitched in to help the soup kitchen survive and serve more people.

“This is a grassroots organization that relies on people, always has been and I hope always will be,” Tilley says. “And I will tell you this is the most generous area I have ever seen. People are willing to give, willing to volunteer and eager to do whatever they can to help. I think they see immediately this is a special place. Something that comes from the heart.

“From the first day,” she adds, “we’ve never looked back at what could’ve been or worried about where the next meal was coming from. The community has supported our efforts and helped it grow.”

Running to give
Seven years ago, recovering from a horrific collection of injuries suffered when his bicycle was struck by a delivery truck in Davidson, Huntersville triathlete Billy Doherty, with his wife Wendy’s encouragement, created the Strong & Focused Triathlon Club — with a name honoring a friend’s courageous battle against incurable cancer and a cause emphasizing the valuable safety aspects of running and cycling in groups instead of alone.

Soon after, the Dohertys organized a Thanksgiving Day run to provide club members, friends and others with a fun, local, holiday-morning outing. In a fitting tribute to Thanksgiving, participants were also asked to bring items to donate to a worthy cause.

More than 150 runners showed up at the Doherty house in Wynfield Creek, contributing more than $1,000 in gift cards and food for Angels & Sparrows.

The following year, at the Strong, Focused and Soon To Be Stuffed Family 5K — this time held at Fleet Feet in Birkdale Village to better accommodate the field — an even larger crowd showed up, armed again with food donations.

And this year, at what will be the sixth Thanksgiving Day running of what is now called the Angels & Sparrows 5K, organizers expect up to 1,500 participants at what has become a Thanksgiving morning family tradition. The event will help generate financial support for a nine-year-old community soup kitchen that, in addition to feeding the needy later that day, will remain on pace to provide close to 60,000 meals this year to residents from throughout the Lake Norman area.

The 2017 5K
Activities surrounding this year’s Angels & Sparrows 5K will begin at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, Nov. 23) at the Fleet Feet store in Birkdale. Coffee, hot chocolate, snacks, music, prizes, a raffle and more will be among the attractions accompanying a competitive and timed 5K as well as a more relaxed family-friendly fun run.

The entry fee is $20 for individuals or $50 per family. Complete details about the event and registration are available at Proceeds will benefit the Angels & Sparrows Soup Kitchen at 514 N. Old Statesville Road in Huntersville.

The day before Thanksgiving, in order to give the Angels & Sparrows staff time to prepare for the Thanksgiving Day meal (available 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and attend the 5K, volunteers from Primal Brewing in Huntersville, along with the food truck regularly stationed at Primal, will handle all soup kitchen duties.

“They do that to help us out,” Tilley says about Primal’s contribution. “It’s something that has become sort of a tradition.”

A small gesture with a big impact. Perfectly appropriate.

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