What could possess 500 normally sane women and girls to lace up their running shoes and show up at a Monsey area park for a 5K run at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning ready to be splattered with rainbows of color by a bunch of trigger-happy individuals armed with fully-loaded paint guns? Chesed 24/7, an organization that has been providing a boatload of services to the Jewish community, including programming for the developmentally-disabled for more than 20 years.
Originally founded to serve residents of New Square, Chesed 24/7 has grown over the years to serve the broader Jewish community and currently stocks hospitality rooms at over a dozen area hospitals with freshly-prepared foods, prepackaged meals, snacks, Jewish reading materials, a refrigerator, meat and dairy microwaves and Shabbos warmers. Other services include hospital shuttles, community medicine chests, a 24-hour hotline, a lending library, a mother’s milk bank, a medical equipment gemach, meals for the sick, elderly or homebound and senior outreach services, with an army of volunteers cheerfully donating their time to help others. Share 24/7, a dedicated division serving the developmentally-disabled, provides residential and respite programs, retreats and habilitation as well vocational and case management services.
All of those programs have to get funded somehow and, after its successful debut last year, Chesed 24/7’s Color Run has fast become a much-anticipated annual event. Having missed last year’s race, I vowed to join in the fun this time around, and while I am sure there were those who trained daily, I confess that my pre-race prep skewed more towards sartorial concerns given that I planned on walking, not running. Should I sacrifice my wear-everywhere black skirt to the cause? And which sheitel was I going to risk?
Sunday June 26th was one of those picture-perfect summer days and it was a spectacular 75 degrees when I got to Eugene Levy Memorial Park bright and early, the number 364 pinned to my official Color Run t-shirt and my camera (hopefully) safely ensconced in a Ziploc bag. I was ready to face the music, or, in this case, the paint.
With the race countdown clock at 45 minutes, the atmosphere was already electric with excited participants pinning numbers to their shirts, scooping up their Chesed 24/7 water bottles, having their faces painted and chatting with friends. It was heartwarming to see the wide variety of people who showed up to show their support from all over Monsey, Passaic and Queens. The littlest walkers looked to be not more than eight years old, with participants ranging upward to sneaker-clad bubbies, and one mother pushing a double stroller – no small feat on some of the steeper hills. Dressed in long sleeves, short sleeves and everything in between and in skirts of varying lengths, participants reflected Monsey’s diverse landscape, with everyone coming together to raise money for a very worthy cause, sponsored by Junk Boyz Preservation and two dozen other local businesses.
By 9:45 the (of course) female DJ was already cranking up the music and the pre-race prep was in full swing, with lots of enthusiastic singing and dancing and sunglasses for all, courtesy of sponsor Wesley Eye Care. Suffice it to say, those shades did not stay white for long, because the minute the first runners burst through the colorful crepe paper starting gate, the paint was flying fast and furious – cheerful volunteers squirted away, dousing everyone in sight with ammunition from their guns, which were loaded with paint-filled soda bottles.
While there were those who chose to avoid the paint, I wasn’t one of them. I mean, half the fun of the color run is getting shpritzed and I did, from head to toe. Along the way, there were plenty to cheer us on throughout the course: decorative drawings in sidewalk chalk on the path and signs that read “Dance for Chesed 24/7,” “We don’t sweat, we sparkle” and my favorite, the confrontational yet motivational “My mascara runs faster than you!” Also dotting the course, in addition to the trigger-happy paint maniacs, were kiddie pools filled with water bottles, volunteers handing out ice pops and plenty of fun music to help keep the pace.