It’s nearly two weeks away from the Detroit Free Press Marathon – the annual race that started in 1978 and missed just one year, 2020 – and organizers say they desperately need hundreds of volunteers willing to help. set up the course, distribute water, direct runners, connect relay runners and award medals.
“We may be short of 500 to 800 volunteers,” said Barbara Bennage, the race’s executive director, on Wednesday, adding that since the start of the pandemic, recruiting volunteers for the race has been a big challenge. “We usually get around 2,500 volunteers, and we are close to 1,000 – no, 800 – and there are critical areas where we are lacking.”
They include the start and finish teams, the course monitors and the people responsible for announcing the numbers of the relay teams.
Marathon volunteers work shifts starting around 5:30 a.m. at 2 p.m. on October 16. Each volunteer earns loot, a navy marathon-branded jacket, and the respect and admiration of runners, who, Bennage says, often smile as they walk past.
Time commitments, which start at around four hours, vary depending on the work you propose to do.
But, Bennage said, there’s a catch: Whether your shift is earlier or later, you should arrive downtown in the morning, because once the race starts, it’s hard to get to where you are. must be as cheering crowds gather.
“It becomes really difficult to come to the city center in the middle of the marathon, because of the road closures,” she added. “So we like early morning shifts because the volunteers are there, and we know they are there.”
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Finding enough volunteers for the event has long been a challenge, Bennage said.
However, since the pandemic it has been particularly difficult, an observation supported by a 2020 study by Fidelity Charitable, which found in a survey of nearly 500 adults in the United States that two-thirds of respondents said they had either decreased the amount of their volunteer time or stopped it altogether.
Study: “Volunteers are essential”
Just as the COVID-19 crisis has forced people to shift to working from home, Fidelity’s study found, it has also moved volunteers away from in-person volunteering. Eight in 10 volunteers did in-person volunteering activities before the pandemic, but once COVID-19 hit, the study found, 65% shifted to mostly virtual activities.
But the study also found that volunteers who participated in virtual activities during the pandemic were split on what they thought: 38% were somewhat or very satisfied with their virtual experience, while 27% were only little or not at all satisfied.
The study concluded that “volunteers are an essential resource for a sustainable nonprofit community” and “now more than ever, the work of volunteers has a clear and direct effect on the people and communities they serve” by giving volunteers “a better look at the issues and challenges faced by many of their neighbors.”
The Free Press Marathon is not the only one in trouble.
Earlier this month, the Fox Cities Marathon in Wisconsin also called for volunteers. Days away, according to reports, organizers needed more help, noting that over the years “volunteering has really had its ups and downs”. According to organizers, fewer volunteers could affect the racing experience.
Volunteers don’t just keep the event moving forward, organizers said, they also give runners a psychological boost.
Former Free Press Marathon volunteers, many of whom have helped for years, said the international race is a wonderful community event that features Detroit and two nations. The 26.2-mile race is expected to bring together around 19,000 runners from around the world – and in some cases is the achievement of a lifetime goal.
Additionally, marathon planners say this year’s course has been redesigned to highlight new locations.
According to organizers, the new course represents the most dramatic changes to the race since its launch. Changes include new quarters and improved racing through the tunnel crossing to Canada and the way spectators follow the race.
Additionally, the Canadian government recently announced the removal of all COVID-19 related entry restrictions, including testing quarantine and isolation requirements for anyone entering Canada, meaning that runners will no longer need to carry proof of vaccinations on race day or fill out other forms. who had been commissioned.
Volunteer: ‘Make my weekend!’
Bennage said she didn’t know why the marathon was struggling to attract volunteers again this year, adding that she didn’t think people were avoiding the marathon for fear of catching the coronavirus.
However, many Americans are staying cautious, wearing masks and gloves and keeping their distance.
Bennage speculated that a generational shift in attitude could lead to some decline in volunteers.
It seems, she said, that a growing number of long-time volunteers feel they are getting too old for the job – “getting old”, she called – and that younger volunteers who could replace them seem less interested in committing to the early-morning hours that the job requires.
In 2019, before the pandemic, the Free Press featured some of its volunteers in the social media spotlight which included photos, favorite race memories, marathon thoughts and snippets of what each volunteer had done to help. .
Some of their comments were sentimental, others amusing.
Jim Kulczyk, for example, said he has been volunteering for 32 years in various roles. He said he volunteers because he enjoys keeping runners and their supporters safe. Even if you don’t run, he says, volunteering is a great way to stay healthy and get to know your neighborhood and city.
Kelly Hughes said she volunteered for three years.
The year before, she says, the job was to hand out petroleum jelly to help runners get irritated. But a few, she found, didn’t know what it was for and mistook it for food and tried to eat it. A guy, she says, told her, “I don’t know what it is but I need it” and put the Vaseline in her mouth.
Dana Meske, a first-time volunteer that year, said she just wanted to give back to the running community and be part of the action, even if she wasn’t running. She said she felt so appreciated by the runners she attended the taping that it “made my weekend!”
In 2020, the pandemic forced the race to go virtual.
“We are heartbroken and disappointed,” organizers said at the time, announcing the cancellation in person. “However, we are working to create the most engaging and collective virtual experience possible – there are still celebrations to be held this year!”
Last year, however, the race returned.
This year, Bennage said she hopes volunteers will too.
Volunteers are essential to the success of the races. The Marathon Volunteer Group provides support to our participants and staff. It’s an opportunity for individuals and groups, such as schools, civic clubs, and sports teams, to help others and complete hours of community service. Register: https://www.freepmarathon.com/volunteer/Questions Email:[email protected] on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/detroitmarathon/
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected]