Runners power through holiday chill

Runner were presented with the challenge of warming up for the Thanksgiving Day run in La Cañada, thanks to the 39-degree holiday chill the morning of Nov. 25.

Participants in the 17th Annual Thanksgiving Day Run and Food Drive, hosted by the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge, began showing up to Memorial Park as early as 7 a.m. before the sun had a chance to melt all the frost that had collected on the grass overnight. Thankfully, the temperature climbed as the start of the race at 8:30 a.m. approached.

The Community Center set its sights on making the 2010 food drive the biggest ever. The center hopes to donate 20,000 cans of food to the L.A. Food Bank this year, looking to double the 10,000 cans collected annually the past several years. Results of how much was raised won't be known until Monday, Nov. 29, but his year the center had extra assistance reaching its goal. Wendy Smith served as the food-drive coordinator, generating excitement about the event at La Cañada's schools.

"It just feels like more than ever families need food," said Melissa Mills, program coordinator for the center. "People are having a hard time making ends meet so this year we wanted to make that push."

The Thanksgiving Day Run and Food Drive is also essential to the Community Center.

"We're suffering in this hard economy like everyone else," said Megan Nordvedt, executive director of the Community Center. "It's hard to compete with all the other really important fundraisers in the area. For us to put on an event like this — that's so different and such a tradition — it's easy for people to be apart of this. You don't have to write a big check or wear a tux; we're not a gala. This is a fun event for the entire family and the entire community."

Runners pay an entry fee of $25 or $30 (depending on when they registered), while kids 10-and-under pay $10 to $15 for the one-mile kids run. Expectations are this will be the center's largest fundraiser of the year yet again with approximately 1,400 to 1,600 runners competing, Mills said.

Out of the 1,000 plus runners, Zack Torres, a 20-year old sophomore on UCLA's track and field team, finished first in this year's race.

Going on 17 years, the run and food drive has become a La Cañada tradition but it's not exclusive. The small-town convention has become a family ritual for father and son Nabil and Ryan Assaf.

"We live in La Crescenta but my boy always wants to come," Nabil Assaf said.

Nabil and Ryan Assaf are both seasoned veterans of the holiday 5K, running it the past five years.

"Even though we don't live here it's a nice tradition and a nice event," Nabil Assaf said. "You do it once and you feel like it's a worthy cause."

Mills said the food drive serves as a perfect reminder of the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday.

"It's so important to remember the meaning behind Thanksgiving," Mills said. "It's easy to think of it as a holiday about turkey, food and football, but it's really about giving back and giving thanks — that's what we're doing here."

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