Hot Chocolate Run returns, raising more than $800,000

  • Members of the Expandable Brass Band walk down Main Street during the 3K Walk that was part of the Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage, Sunday morning, in downtown Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Thousands of participants make their way up Main Street as the 3K Walk kicked off in Downtown Northampton Sunday morning for the annual Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage in Northampton, MA. Sabato Visconti—Copyright.2021

  • Participants of the 5K Fun Run kick off their leg of the race during the 18th Annual Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage, Sunday, in Northampton. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

  • Brian Palazzi and Beverly Burns of Springfield, decked out in elf colors, run up Main Street in Northampton, Sunday, at the beginning of the 5K Fun Run during the annual Hot Chocolate Run for Safe Passage. FOR THE GAZETTE/Sabato Visconti

For the Gazette
Published: 12/5/2021 8:33:41 PM
Modified: 12/5/2021 8:33:12 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After going completely virtual last year due to COVID-19, runners and walkers made an exuberant and festive return to the streets of Northampton for the 18th annual Hot Chocolate Run on Sunday morning.

Over 4,500 people participated in this year’s event, raising a record-breaking $805,439 for Safe Passage, a local organization that provides a variety of support services to survivors of domestic abuse.

“I am just gobsmacked!” Safe Passage board co-chair Raquel Manzanares said. “It is more than we have ever raised by over $100,000.”

Manzanares said she appreciates living in an area where people have “such compassion for their fellow humans.”

“This is absolutely a sign that this community is done with domestic violence and they really put their money where their hearts are,” she said.

The race began at 9 a.m. with a walking division, followed at 9:30 a.m. by a 5K fun run, and a timed 5K road race at 10:15 a.m.

Participants ranged in age from children to seniors. Many sported costumes, dressing as elves, reindeer, Santas and superheroes, while others ran in a variety of fruit and animal outfits.

In some cases, even the family dog came along, many decked out in fashionable coats, while others wore tutus, Santa hats and mermaid outfits.

A sea of red watch caps was also visible as participants gathered for the race, each hat representing an individual who had raised over $150 for Safe Passage.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, state Sen. Jo Comerford, and Safe Passage Executive Director Marianne Winters addressed the crowd just before the start of the event.

“This is one of the premier events of the city and we are so proud to support Safe Passage because of all the ways they support the people of Northampton, Hampshire County and beyond,” Narkewicz said.

He praised Safe Passage for providing life-saving support for hundreds of survivors of domestic violence and their children, running emergency shelters, staffing 24-hour hotlines, and providing counseling, advocacy, and legal assistance.

“Safe Passage is leading us all in the prevention of intimate partner violence,” he said.

Comerford told the crowd that she was a longtime supporter of Safe Passage and appreciated the turnout for the Hot Chocolate Run.

“Safe Passage offers us a world and a vision of no more violence, no more intimate partner violence, no more fear of partners or families,” Comerford said. “This run and walk offers us a chance to participate in an unparalleled community event that has grown over the years to this astounding show of community solidarity and support.”

The first Hot Chocolate Run took place Dec. 5, 2004, when 400 people participated, raising $6,000 for Safe Passage.

According to Winters, the 2019 run brought in $625,000, while last year’s virtual event raised $425,000.

In her remarks, Winters spoke directly to people who may have experienced violence in their relationships.

“If you are one of the many survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence here with us today, look around at this community and how much they support you,” Winters said. “Each person is here for each one of you.”

Walkers and runners

Participants came from all over the Pioneer Valley and far beyond.

The Expandable Brass Band helped kick off the event as they led the walking division out of the starting gate. Walkers strolled, skipped, danced and clapped to the music as they made their way up Crafts Avenue.

Vincent Baker and Kristen Kean of Westfield brought their two sons, Nolan, 11, and Myles, 8, to participate in the walk.

“We always speak with the boys about important social issues like domestic violence and we think that it’s important to be here with them today,” Baker said. “We also see a lot of friends here, the kids enjoy it, and it is a big friendly community event.”

Diane Curtis of Sunderland attended the event with her partner, Ellen Leuchs, daughter, Romy Leuchs-Curtis, and family dog Fritzie.

“I used to be on the board of Safe Passage and have been involved with the Hot Chocolate Run since the beginning,” Curtis said.

Curtis said that the Hot Chocolate run was not only a fundraiser, but that the large show of public support has inspired many people who had once been apprehensive about leaving an abusive situation.

“Seeing this gives them the strength and conviction to seek help,” she said.

One woman competing in the road race came all the way from Cape Verde.

Vania Marques said she was visiting family in Sunderland when she heard about the race and decided she wanted to compete.

“This is only my second day here, but my brother told me about Safe Passage and the run, so I wanted to come,” she said. “I just wish the weather was warmer!”

Other runners were regulars at the event.

Brian Palazzi and Beverly Burns of Springfield said that they have taken part enough times to collect a nice set of the commemorative mugs that participants receive with hot chocolate after crossing the finish line.

“This is just super fun. It is one of my most enjoyable events of the year,” said Palazzi in his elf attire. “For us, it all about having a good time, seeing friends and supporting a great cause,”

Palazzi and Burns were running with 20 other people on a team called Run Your Health.

Winters said the money raised from the event benefits every part of Safe Passage, from programming to operational functions.

She said she was overjoyed at the amount of funds raised and the support that poured out from the community.

“Coming back this year, you could just feel the energy from people,” Winters said. “They really wanted to connect in a meaningful way and feel a sense of community again.”

Several runners, including Stephanie Case of Enfield, said the Hot Chocolate Run will become an annual event for them.

“I ran in 2019 when I first heard about the race, but then last year COVID hit.” Case said. “I will definitely be back next year because supporting survivors of domestic violence is very important to me.”

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