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Chick-Fil-A 5K goes virtual this year

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WAKE FOREST - Every year for the past three years, the Chick-Fil-A 5K has served the community by raising money for local charities, while also hosting a fun, competitive race. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this year's 5K will have a different approach.

The Chick-Fil-A 5K, hosted by Heritage High School and the Chick-Fil-A Leader Academy, will go virtual this year. The charity run was supposed to happen at Heritage May 16. 

Instead of postponing the race to a later date, the students at Heritage and the organization decided that the race must go on so that donations can arrive to charities quick enough to help fight back against the pandemic.

Brien Brennan, a junior at Heritage and the Director of Sponsorship for the Chick-Fil-A Leadership Academy, made the decision with his fellow classmates to not cancel the charity run, but instead do something more creative.

"We are encouraging runners to run on their own or in family units," Brennan said. "We are letting runners upload pictures of themselves from now until May 15. They can post that to our Facebook page. We are giving out prizes for the most creative photos taken. All of the money will be donated to North East Wake BackPack Buddies."

BackPack Buddies is designed to provide children from low-income households with 10-12 pounds of nutritious kid-friendly groceries for the weekend when free school lunches and breakfasts are not provided. There are approximately 400 children in the northeast Wake County region receiving weekly bags from North East Wake Backpack Buddies.

Bonnie Mwanda is the assistant principal of instruction at Heritage and one of the head organizers for the Chick-Fil-A 5K. She said she's excited on how this year's virtual race will turn out.

"The kids are hosting a video on the Chick-Fil-A 5K website," Mwanda said. "They're using a GoPro camera to show what the route would be. The runners are running their 5K and posting their pictures. We'll give out Swag Bags to those who register, which consists of T-shirts, Chick-Fil-A gift cards and other Chick-Fil-A merchandise."

As of right now, the Chick-Fil-A 5K has raised $3,500 for the North East BackPack Buddies. That organization will also partner with the Tri-Area Ministry Food Pantry in Wake Forest.

"We choose a different local charity every year to donate to," Brennan said. "We want to make a direct impact with our community. We always look for organizations that do incredible grassroots work. We donated to Hope House in Wake Forest last year."

Brennan has been a part of the Chick-Fil-A Leader Academy since his freshman year. He said the program does a great job of teaching the importance of servant leadership.

It wasn't something Brennan imagined himself being a part of at first. Now, he's all in for helping the program reach out to the local community and impact it in a positive way.

"My mom got me involved," Brennan said. "She pushed me to do this and I'm glad that she did. I came in as a freshman a little timid. I didn't want to overextend myself. I waited until the last day to turn in my application. I'm incredibly glad that I applied. The experience really does act as a test lap for life. We don't walk into this club thinking that everyone is going to be incredibly skilled at leadership. We find it within ourselves to develop our own skills and help those around us. That's what makes a complete leader. Chick-Fil-A Leader Academy has laid down the foundation and groundwork for all of my leadership at Heritage."

In addition to being the Director of Sponsorship for the Chick-Fil-A Leadership Academy, Brennan is also the Heritage Junior Class President and the co-president of the Science Olympiad Team. He also participates on the school's Brain Games team.

Not having the race in person this year puts a damper on the seniors, who have spent the past three years in the Leadership Academy. 

"For the seniors, they're kind of sad that we're not doing it with everyone," Mwanda said. "The first year, we raised $2,000 and last year we raised $6,000. We were ready to hit a goal of $10,000. They miss setting stuff up and running with other people. The ultimate goal is to impact the community. We were going to push it back to June, but we decided to do it now to help those around us."

Nevertheless, the seniors have left behind a legacy of showing love and support to the Wake Forest community through their efforts. Although they're going to see it go through this year, they can look back on the memories they shared in building the Chick-Fil-A 5K into what it is now.

"We all met digitally to talk about doing this as a virtual 5K," Brennan said. "The predominant feeling is that the seniors are leaving something wonderful behind. This is something they built. That is one of the most rewarding feelings that I've picked up from talking to them. I know our seniors are going to do a tremendous job with all of their future studies."

Brennan added that the seniors didn't want to wait until the coronavirus pandemic was over to run the race. They put their community first and didn't want to postpone donations made to BackPack Buddies.

"The race is a joyful experience that helps the community," Brennan said. "To not be able to physically hand over the check to the organization at the post-5K banquet is disappointing. The seniors talked about how the community need this 5K more than ever, which is why we shifted to a virtual 5K."

The Chick-Fil-A 5K is already off to a great start even though it's not May 16 yet. The Heritage students received a grant of $1,500 from Chick-Fil-A for their participation in helping the race happen this year.

People can register or donate at www.chickfila5k.org. If they register, they will receive their Swag Bag and make their mark on helping BackPack Buddies.

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