Maybe the reach of 6-foot, 5-inch Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran was a factor in his grocery-grabbing victory Thursday, but all involved in the annual Race for Hunger agreed those in need were the real winners.
"I'm tired, I was running out of breath, but in my heart, I'm glad we could help. It's a good cause. It was fun," said Undersheriff Ray Rose, who fell $161.38 short of Curran in the 16th annual event held at the Piggly Wiggly in Antioch.
Together, the pair pulled in $2,321.08 in peanut butter, cereal, canned tuna, boxed meals, rice and other assorted nonperishable items to be distributed to food pantries in Fremont Township and to those operated by the COOL Ministries in Waukegan and Ingleside. Each was given a boost at the start as a table of flour, baby food and other essential goods was set up for the taking.
Curran and Rose agreed they were happy to compete for a worthy cause.
"We're serving between 6,000 and 7,000 people a month. In previous years, it was 5,000," said Gayle Puetz-Olson, pantry manager for the Christian Outreach of Lutherans, or COOL. "We're seeing a lot more couples who are both working."
The event is sponsored by the Lake County Farm Bureau, which picks up the tab.
"We've had school superintendents, fire chiefs, police chiefs, politicians -- people who are involved in the community," said Greg Koeppen, executive director. "It's nice to see after 16 years, it's taking off."
Aside from a pulled hamstring one year, no one has gotten hurt, although there has been some "good breakage" of items as the contestants speed through the aisles, Koeppen said.
The event is timed for the lull in charitable giving.
"People give at holiday time, but we have the need all year round," Fremont Township Supervisor Diana O'Kelly said. The pantry served 89 families last month, she said.
With an assistant working their carts, Curran and Rose each had five minutes to grab any item that could sit on a shelf without spoiling. Meat, produce, frozen food, alcohol and other beverages, vitamins and pet products were off the table, so to speak.
Sgt. Sara Balmes, the sheriff's public information officer, piloted Curran's cart, while Rose's wife, Joanne, steered Rose's cart. Balmes, who was recruited minutes before the event, said she rarely shops. The Roses browsed the aisles last Sunday as reconnaissance.
Curran said he was a "foot soldier" for the event and followed Balmes' instructions.
"I thought it was pretty good. I didn't have to think," he said after the run. "I grabbed what she told me."
The final tally, after the store discounts and including tax: Curran: $1,241.23; Rose: $1,079.85.
Puetz-Olson said the COOL Ministries pantries distributed 1.1 million pounds of food. During the week, at least 10 families waited an hour or more for the pantry to open, she said.
"They pay the utility bills and then come to us for help," she said.