Hundreds of runners, joggers, and walkers gather at the starting line for the Run 4 Hunger outside the District56 center on July 4.

Elk Grove’s first major public event since the California economy’s June 15 reopening was held on the morning of Independence Day. More than 1,200 runners, joggers, and walkers participated in the races for the 17th annual Run 4 Hunger, which is a fundraiser for the Elk Grove Food Bank Services. Last year’s race was canceled, due to the COVID-19 situation. The food bank instead held an online fundraiser.

Marie Jachino, the food bank’s executive director, said that organizers did not expect so many participants in this year’s race.

“We didn’t expect that many and we’re running out of (race) shirts,” she told the Citizen. “People are still coming out and they don’t want a shirt, they just want to be here.”

Supporters gathered outside the District56 center in the cool morning breeze, and they traveled in either the 5K or 10K races that stretched through the Laguna Ridge area.

“As you know, COVID has been taxing on all of us, but the hardest hit are those who needed the love and support of the food bank over the last year,” Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen told the crowd before the run started.

Teams, including a local Zumba group from California Family Fitness, joined the fun. The Zumba team demonstrated a dance before the race started.

“We’re glad to come out here, and dance and run for the community and the families that are food-insecure,” team member Paul Bowling said.

Preston Conner, a 17-year-old Jesuit High School student from Elk Grove, dashed to victory in the 5K race.

“I’ve done this every year and so to finally win is a bucket list thing,” he said. “One of the biggest community races is in my hometown.”

Jason Sanguinetti of Sacramento won the 10k race during his first time at the Run 4 Hunger. He said that he did not have problems with the course except a mile-long stretch when he had heavy winds blow into his face.

“It’s a great cause and I hope this continues every year, keep it up,” Sanguinetti said about the fundraiser.

The food bank experienced a sharp rise in new clients who sought food assistance last year after the COVID-19 pandemic arose and the state called for the temporary closure of businesses considered non-essential.

Elk Grove City Council Member Kevin Spease helped organize grocery purchases for the food bank during the pandemic’s early months.

“If we didn’t have (the food bank) during the pandemic, we’d have a lot more folks who would be in a lot more trouble,” he told the Citizen.

Jachino said that her nonprofit is now helping more than 8,000 people in the Elk Grove community. She said that proceeds from this year’s Run 4 Hunger will fund programs that assist seniors and children.

The food bank staff is collaborating with the Elk Grove Unified School District to start a food pantry program for schools as well as a weekly farmer’s market that will take place at a campus, Jachino said.

“(The race) makes a difference for over 8,000 individuals in Elk Grove,” Jachino said. “(The proceeds) go into our general fund so we keep doing what we’re doing because the increase hasn’t stopped.”

Mark Jansson, a founding board member of the food bank, said their nonprofit supports “many faces of hunger” in the local community, “whether it’s emotional, spiritual, or physical.”

The food bank is now building its future home at Kent Street, which includes a 9,900-square-foot warehouse. This nonprofit is currently housed in a small warehouse space at nearby Dino Drive. Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, secured a $4 million state grant for the new facility.

Jachino said that the project is slated to be finished in October, but her nonprofits needs more funding since construction costs rose by 35%. She said that the Run 4 Hunger’s proceeds are earmarked for the food bank’s programs and not the future facility.

Valerie Erwin, the food bank’s community outreach manager, told the Citizen that organizers were still counting proceeds from the race, as of press time.