‘Big Chill’ 5k collects gifts for needy children

The “Big Chill 5K Race” plans to warm up thousands of participants, as well as the hearts of underprivileged children.

At least 6,500 participants this year signed up for the race on Saturday beginning in front of the College Avenue Gym, said Diane Bonanno, executive director of Recreation at the University. As an entry requirement, they will have to donate toys that will be given as gifts to underprivileged children.

“Normally when you give a child a gift, they tear it open,” Bonanno said. “Seeing homeless children who do not do that, who take the present, grab it to their chest because they know they might not get any other presents. It kind of breaks your heart.”

Big Chill provided more than 8,000 toys for children last year and aims to bring in 7,000 runners and as many gifts tomorrow, according to the “Big Chill” website.

The gifts are distributed to the administrative offices of the New Brunswick Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the Franklin Housing Authority, The Salvation Army of Bound Brook, Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital and American Red Cross of Central New Jersey among other places, according to the website.

Modeled after the Thanksgiving race “Turkey Trot,” the Big Chill’s charitable nature helps yield its high turnout, Bonanno said.

“I think students like the idea that handing in a toy will benefit someone,” she said.

Preparation for this year’s “Big Chill” began this summer, as managing a large community event requires a great amount of work, Bonanno said.

“It takes a lot of people — [the students] who volunteer and Rutgers EMS,” she said. “We start meeting in September. A lot goes into getting sponsors.”

The “Big Chill” is the second largest race in New Jersey, according to the “Big Chill” website. More than 20 restaurants and 30 business owners in Middlesex and Somerset counties help sponsor the race, which is open to the public.

“Everything from the shirts we buy — to the timing company we have to pay — comes from donations,” Bonanno said.

Anne Finetto, fitness coordinator for Recreation, said the “Big Chill” is a positive way to garner feelings of generosity throughout the community.

“I’ve had people come up to me with an envelope of cash, just to donate further to the cause,” she said. “[People like] the charitable end of it and the fact that we give back to the community. It’s just a feel good event.”

Danielle Bercovicz, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the “Big Chill” is a community event that brings in runners from greek organizations and local groups to create an exciting experience for all participants.

“It’s so convenient being right on campus,” said Bercovicz, who ran with her sorority, Delta Gamma, two years ago. “It’s not that hard to spend $10 on a gift. You’re doing a good thing and it’s fun.”

Jake Spooner, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said the race is also a good chance for competitive runners to practice their racing times. Spooner said he has run the race every year he has been at the University, and said last year he placed around 40th.

“I ran cross country in high school, so I’m always down when I hear about a 5k,” he said.

Spooner, who plans to run with his fraternity Alpha Kappa Lambda this weekend, said the event always generates a large turnout.

“I’m always kind of shocked about how many gifts they’re able to get,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

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