WHEELING - Proceeds from this year's Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Run and Walk will assist the Wheeling Fraternal Order of Police in providing a merry Christmas for hundreds of Ohio County children.
Organizers of the 38th annual distance race, set for May 23-24 on the streets of Wheeling, have chosen to partner with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 38 and the group's annual "Shop with a Cop" program, marking the fifth year the Ogden race has donated its proceeds to a local charitable cause that benefits the area's youth.
The race in previous years has donated its proceeds and given support to the Augusta Levy Learning Center, the Miracle Field of the Ohio Valley and the Howard Corcoran Scholarship Fund through the Super Six Committee.
Perry Nardo, general manager of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, said partnering with the FOP this year made sense.
"For the past 37 years, the Wheeling Police Department has played a pivotal role in making the Ogden Half Marathon Classic the premier outdoor sporting event in the Ohio Valley," Nardo said. "This year, in recognition of that effort and, most importantly, to help support the area's youth through the FOP's 'Shop with a Cop' program, we will donate proceeds from our race so the FOP can provide holiday cheer to even more Ohio County youth."
During the holiday shopping event, Wheeling police officers partner with Ohio County Schools to assist students in need. Officers take the youngsters shopping for toys, clothes, books, games and more, providing them not only with Christmas items but also forging a bond with them.
Ogden Race Director R. "Scat" Scatterday said assisting FOP Lodge 38 falls in line with the race's mission: benefiting children.
"Probably the strongest motivation to support the FOP is that, without their effort, some kids would not have Christmas," Scatterday said. "When we learned that, we just knew we had to assist them this year."
When he received a call regarding the race's plans for the proceeds, Wheeling Police Sgt. Tom Howard, Lodge 38 president, said, "It basically just knocked my socks off."
Howard organizes the "Shop with a Cop" program, but credits local police officers with making the event what it is. Full-time police officers volunteer their time to shop with participating children, usually on a Sunday a few weeks before Christmas.
"I pat all of these guys on the back because they make it happen. They put their free time into it," Howard said of his fellow officers. "It's everybody coming together. It's all about the kids."
FOP Lodge 38 will add this year's race proceeds to its normal fundraising efforts, Howard added.
"We're not going to put this in place of (any money we would normally raise). We're still going to do whatever we can do," Howard said. "This is going to be an addition."
With money from the Ogden race and what Lodge 38 generates annually through its own fundraising, Howard expects to raise between $30,000 and $35,000 this year. The goal is to provide at least 200 to 250 children with $150 each for Christmas shopping.
Howard even hopes to be able to reach more youngsters this year.
"That would be great. Will we reach that? I don't know. But we'll find out," Howard said. "The more, the better."
Partnering with Ohio County Schools to offer the program to children in need from preschool through eighth grade, FOP Lodge 38 works to make the event available to as many children as possible. Families with multiple children also are welcome to participate.
Howard said he appreciates the officers' commitment to the "Shop with a Cop" program. Howard estimates 25 officers attended this past year's event. Many spent six hours shopping with children at Walmart at The Highlands. Whereas some children "will make a beeline for the game center," others spend 40-45 minutes with the volunteers.
"Seeing the smiles on those kids' faces ... it makes you feel good," Howard said. "I can't emphasize how much fun I have. I have more fun than (the children) do."
FOP Lodge 38 also partnered with the Pirates Charities Winter CARE-a-van last month to help about two dozen children at an additional day for the "Shop with a Cop" event at Target at The Highlands.
Scatterday said donating the race proceeds to worthy causes is what makes the Ogden so unique. He looks forward to continuing the Ogden race tradition, which now encompasses multiple days and events for people of all ages and abilities.
"I am honored to be a part of a great team that makes available to the Ohio Valley such events where everybody wins," Scatterday said.
"The people of this valley have been good," Howard added. "If there's a cause, they always come together."