Photos: Pictured above, members of the Ashville High School cross country and outdoor track teams gather for a photo last Monday (May 18) at the Ashville Piggly-Wiggly after shopping with the proceeds from their Miles for Meals Run-A-Thon. Pictured, from left: Kayla Simpson, Meghan McCarthy, Grace Staples, Callie Stewart, Emma Drinkard, Walker Griffith, Joe Stevens, Greyson Simpson, Molly Northam, Sera Beth Potter, Kathleen McCarthy, AHS cross country coach Michele Rogers. (Not pictured: Abby Smith, Emma Thompson, Taylor Knight, Hayden Coker, Travis Smith).
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Back in late March when the COVID-19 pandemic’s stay-at-home order was putting a serious dent in most people’s finances, Meghan McCarthy wanted to do something for the hardest-hit residents of her community.
Still saddened from seeing most of her outdoor track and soccer seasons cancelled, the Ashville High School junior and Rainbow City resident put aside that disappointment and utilized her God-given talent of long distance running to help put bread on the table of less fortunate neighbors.
Enlisting the help of 14 fellow AHS cross country and outdoor track team members, McCarthy organized the Miles for Meals Run-A-Thon, in which sponsors pledged up to $5 per mile for every mile completed by each runner. The fundraiser took place from May 4 through May 9.
McCarthy based her Miles for Meals off a similar fundraiser put together by a college runner she follows on Instagram.
“I wanted to do something like that for people in Ashville,” she said. “I knew that there were people out there that needed help because they were out of work with the [stay-at-home-order]. Plus, it was cool to help people by doing something you do every day for yourself and put it to good use to help a lot of people.
“I’m just thankful for all of the amazing sponsors and the people who donated. This would not have been possible without all of them.”
After giving a heads-up to AHS principal Janet Johnson, McCarthy and varsity veteran runners Callie Stewart, Kathleen McCarthy and Grace Staples met with AHS cross country/track coach Michele Rogers to hash out the logistics, including the collection of pledged funds and the shopping for and distribution of the food. Rogers helped set up a Venmo account so sponsors could observe social distancing and not have to exchange money during the stay at home order.
Logging miles with McCarthy from May 4 to May 8 were her sister Kathleen, Stewart, Staples, Sera Beth Potter, Abby Smith, Molly Northam, Emma Thompson, Emma Drinkard, Taylor Knight, Hayden Coker, Walker Gri-ffith, Joe Stevens, Travis Smith and Greyson Simpson. In only five days, the group totaled 353 miles for an average of 24 miles per participant.
Meghan reached her personal goal of 35 miles over the course of the fundraiser.
“It felt really good to be able to run that many miles in just five days,” she said. “Since I was the one who came up with the idea, I really wanted to push myself.”
Several of the participants ran their miles on the trails behind the Vivian Lee Maddox Sports Complex in Rainbow City, where Meghan had been running since the AHS campus closed on March 17.
“It’s great to be able to have a place where your team can run, even if it was a little far away for some people. We didn’t see each other during the [stay-at-home order], so it was nice to come together for a good cause.”
Figuring to raise around $1,000, Meghan and her fellow runners exceeded expectations with a final amount of $2,890, every penny of which went towards groceries for several families in the Ashville area.
The Miles for Meals Run-A-Thon participants met last Monday (May 18) at the Ashville Piggly-Wiggly, which opened its doors at 6:30 a.m. to accommodate the high-volume shoppers. After completely filling 10 shopping carts, the runners transported the food to nearby Ashville High School, where the families were notified that they could pick up their groceries.
“It was really nice getting to see how each family reacted,” said Meghan. “There was one lady that almost started crying. It was great to see our hard work paid off and make people happy. You don’t realize how much you have until you see people that are grateful just to get a few groceries. We learned that even if you’re making a small difference, you’re still making a difference.”
Miles for Meals coincided with the date of the Class 4A state track meet in Gulf Shores, which was cancelled when the Alabama High School Athletic Association ended the 2020 track and field season on March 17. Meghan, Kathleen, Stewart and Drinkard had high hopes of medaling in the 4×800-meter relay event.
“We were looking to at least place at state, so it was really disappointing when everything was cancelled,” said Meghan. “But I wanted to still do something with that team, so that’s why I decided to [hold the fundraiser] at the same time that the state meet would have been. [Miles for Meals] took a little bit of the hurt away.”
Meghan is seeing her hard work in the classroom and on the trails pay off, as she has been offered a cross country scholarship to Wallace State-Hanceville. She also is drawing interest from the University of North Alabama, Birmingham Southern and the University of the South.
“I always knew that the cross country and track are some of the best kids on campus, and (Miles for Meals) just proves that,” said Rogers. “They all have good hearts and were able to do something good for the community, even though they lost out on something that they were looking forward to with the state meet.”
Rogers was impressed by how Meghan organized the fundraiser and how she assumed the many responsibilities if seeing it through.
“She really did a lot of it herself. She reached out to our principal and the middle school principal to see if they could help find families who would benefit. She contacted Piggly-Wiggly to reserve a time for us to shop. She collected all the money from the runners and took care of their sheets to make sure everything was accurate. She basically took care of a whole lot of things in a short period of time.”
Although perhaps they won’t realize it for some time, Johnson believes that the Miles for Meals participants received out much more than they put into the fundraiser.
“Most of these kids probably haven’t been a part of something like this, where they see people who are so appreciative of what the kids did. They’ll remember that for a very long time of how good that felt. Those kids have got the servant type of hearts, and that’s what made this so special.”
Johnson anticipates that the Miles for Meals Run-A-Thon will open more than few doors for Meghan following graduation next spring.
“I know that Meghan didn’t put this together to have something to put on her resume, but this is the kind of thing that colleges look at and go, ‘wow.’ They want to see things that show leadership characteristics and organizational ability. That’s really going to set Meghan apart and show just what an outstanding young lady she is. I’m really, really proud of her for standing on her own two feet and doing something as special as this.”