The leaders in the two-mile race run through the ChocolateFest grounds during the Talmer Turkey Trot held on Thanksgiving day. (Photo by Jennifer Eisenbart)

Nearly 500 participants help fill food pantry

By Jennifer Eisenbart

Staff writer

When Chris Ponteri first visualized the idea of starting Burlington’s own “Turkey Trot” last fall, he hoped for a few hundred participants and a chance to give people something unusual to do on Thanksgiving morning.

The event grew into more than he could have hoped last week, as close to 500 runners participated in the Talmer Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.

The trot, which featured two- and four-mile courses, drew strong competition across the board, with several runners posting competitive times.

But, according to Ponteri, the money raised for Love Inc. was just as important. He said Tuesday that the event collected a truckload of food for Love Inc.’s food pantry, as well as somewhere between $3,000-$4,000.

“We’re still counting,” said Ponteri, who is a member of the Love Inc. board. “It’s humbling for everyone involved.

“I think Love was pleasantly surprised by the turnout.”

Love Inc. Executive Director Bill Schoessling was more than just pleasantly surprised, actually.

“It turned out better than we ever could have thought,” Schoessling said. “It was a great morning and people had a lot of fun.”

Thanksgiving may not seem to be the ideal time for a race, but Ponteri said as the idea gained steam – and the support of Love Inc., Talmer Bank and Burlington Mayor Bob Miller – he kept upping his projected number of runners.

He said the large turnout for the event was likely due to a number of reasons.

“The charitable aspect is one of them,” Ponteri explained. “It’s one of those times you’re thankful for what you have.

“When you’re thankful for what you have, you think of those who don’t have.”

He also added Thanksgiving is “just a good day to have a run.

“I figured eventually we’d get a lot of numbers,” Ponteri said. “For a first run, that’s an outstanding number.”

And for a first-time event, there were also a surprising number of connections to Burlington – and to Love Inc. Melinda Pedersen, who works for Love Inc. as a translator one day a week, won the women’s two-mile race, while Abbie Zaspel – a Burlington High School and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee athlete – won the women’s four-mile.

And while no one met the criteria for the $250 cash prize – awarded to up to four men who broke 20 minutes and four women who broke 22 minutes – Ponteri said the race went well and seemed well-received. “It shows two things: we marketed it properly and, two, there’s a market in Burlington for an event like this.”