It’s a communal celebration, an outdoor gathering, a physical challenge, a united effort to help bring those hovering near the margins closer to center. It’s the 16th annual New Paltz Turkey Trot: a 5K walk/run in the heart of the Village to help bring financial aid and awareness to Family of New Paltz, its food pantry, crisis services and bevy of social programming and support.
Each year the Thanksgiving morning Trot brings in thousands of dollars for the local not-for-profit group, which was created in 1975 to help those still reeling from the darker edges of the Woodstock and post-Vietnam era. This year, the Trot was named in honor of longtime Family of New Paltz director Kathy Cartagena, who passed away earlier this year. True to her spirit, the event garnered upwards of $40,000 and had so many participants that the organizers ran out of race bibs.
“We had more in sponsorship than we’ve ever had before, and that was just to get us going,” said Turkey Trot volunteer coordinator Jen Puleo. “We had at least $36,000 from local business sponsors, and 1,000 people registered, but they’re still registering and the race is about to start!” she said with a laugh, showing off the tutus made by herself and her daughter, Alyssa Puleo, which racegoers could buy for $10 each. They added flair and an extra way of raising some money for the local support and crisis center.
Trot participants have traditionally dressed up for the race, with many of them wearing bird hats, full turkey costumes, colorful socks, skirts, headdresses, capes and feathers; but this year the glittering taffeta tutus helped to spice up the family fun race. According to Puleo, the idea for the tutus came from an adult case manager at Family. “Between Colleen and my daughter [Alyssa] and Madison Harp [a junior at New Paltz High School] and myself, we just sewed them together!”
As Carl Welden, the emcee of the event, sent off the runners, with the fastest ones typically at the front and the more fun-loving trotters and baby-jogger-toting parents and walkers at the back, volunteers like Fonda Rothblatt were still registering people who had decided to come at the last minute and join in the community run. “We ran out of bibs!” said Puleo. “The race had been going on for ten minutes and we still had people walking up to the table to register. They didn’t even care if they had bibs; they just wanted to be a part of it and support Family.”
Although the race is chip -timed and certified by the United States of America Track and Field (USATF) for more serious runners and local athletes trying to get an official time in before they carb-load with stuffing and mashed potatoes, the majority of people are just there to burn a few calories, enjoy the outdoors, know that their run is going to help a good cause and hopefully catch up with some friends and neighbors.
“I’ve been running this since it started — maybe even before it started!” joked Dawn Takacs, an avid runner and active community member. She said that her family, as well as a few other New Paltz families, have a Thanksgiving tradition of running the Turkey Trot and then “heading to Hasbrouck Park to play football. We’ve been doing it for years. It’s a great way to kick off Thanksgiving.”
Patricia Kuyl, a mother of three now-graduated New Paltz High School athletes, was in attendance with her husband Pierre as they represented the Mountain Laurel Waldorf School. “I love the vibes that are always present here,” said Patricia. “It’s such a spirited event where the community comes alive. People come out with their families or their sports teams or just to be part of it and volunteer…I just love it every year!”
Asked what his thoughts on the annual Turkey Trot were, recently appointed New Paltz justice Rhett Weires said, “I’ll allow it!” with a laugh. He was joined by his wife and four boys, as well as his brother from the Syracuse area and his children. “We do the Turkey Trot by my brother’s every year, and this is the first time in ten years that we were able to do it here as a family, so I’m thrilled,” said the New Paltz native.
They came, they ran, they walked and they most certainly trotted in memory of Kathy Cartagena and in the spirit of community. To learn more about the sponsors, the services that Family provides, the race results and/or photos, go to www.newpaltzturkeytrot.com.