Laurel Leader

Coronavirus pandemic drives traditional fundraising walks and trots in Laurel to go virtual

For years, Karen Lubieniecki and Jim McCeney walked 3 miles every weekday. Heading out in the wee hours of the morning — around 6:30 a.m. — the two would meet at the corner of Fourth and Prince George streets to traverse one of the many routes they created through the city of Laurel.

“It was a great way to see the community,” Lubieniecki, said. “On Fridays, we would walk to Laurel [Park] racetrack. All the horses were out exercising and we would watch. It was quite lovely.”


After McCeney died at 74 in March 2016, Lubieniecki knew how she wanted to honor her walking partner.

Lubieniecki and McCeney shared an interest in history, and both were involved with the Laurel Historical Society. McCeney was a past chairperson, treasurer and president; Lubieniecki is the current chair of the museum’s executive committee.


In October 2016, the first McCeney March was held as a fundraiser for the Laurel Historical Society.

The 3-mile walk has been held every year since in September, and this year is no exception. On Sept. 29 through Oct. 3, a virtual McCeney March will take place. It joins a host of other run/walk fundraisers driven by the coronavirus pandemic to a virtual format, which allows participants to choose where, when and how they want to participate instead of limiting them to one day and one location. Participants can then submit their times and a photo to the sponsoring organization.

“It is a new game for us,” said Laura Wellford, development and communications manager for Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services Inc., organizer of the Turkey Trot held on Thanksgiving morning in Laurel for the past 15 years. “It is definitely something we’ve never done before.”

Close to 1,000 people participated in last year’s Turkey Trot and raised more than $65,000 for the nonprofit, Wellford said. This year, the nonprofit is hoping for 500 people to participate throughout the week of Thanksgiving.

“Usually, people come from all over the country — California, Florida,” said Wellford, as many are in town for the holiday. “We are not getting all those people unless they decide to do it.”

In 2012, the Savage 7K Run and 1-Mile Historic Walk was created specifically as a 7K to stand apart from the more common 5K races in the area, according to Sara Vermillion, race organizer. A fundraiser for the historic Carroll Baldwin Hall in Savage, the race is “very community based,” she said, with about 150 runners participating and local businesses and community members supporting it and enjoying the festivities.

“We thought long and hard before canceling it this year,” Vermillion said. “People would be outdoors running and social distancing, but the gathering before and after, we couldn’t do it.”

It, too, is now a virtual event, after joining forces with the Back-to-School Challenge, a run organized by Bull’s Eye, a running team/coordinator/ event planner, that sets a course for runners past numerous schools, both historic and current, and is offered through the month of September. For each entry in the challenge, the hall fund received $5.


“We wanted to keep our name out there,” Vermillion said. “It is not as much fun. It is not this community event.”

The Savage 7K Run was popular for its baked goods, Vermillion said, with local bakeries providing fresh muffins and scones for the runners. After completing Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services’ Turkey Trot, runners were treated to a piece of pie and upon completion of the McCeney March, a picnic was held on the grounds of the Laurel History Museum.

While these traditions won’t continue this year, a virtual race does have its benefits, the organizations agreed, as streets don’t have to be closed, portable toilets rented, tables set up or volunteers stationed along the route.

“All we did was a pamphlet of information and left it outside of the hall,” Vermillion said. “That’s all we did. Virtual is a lot less work.”

“Overall, it is a little easier to do,” said Ann Bennett, executive director of the Laurel Historical Society. “We don’t have the normal prep work.”

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As the organizer of Laurel’s 150th Anniversary Emancipation Day Virtual 5K, held Sept. 5 to 12, Jackie Jones credits advance planning by the anniversary committee for the smooth transition from a one-day race originally scheduled for April to a successful virtual one. While she did not have exact numbers available, she said close to 150 people participated.


“It turned out extremely well,” Jones said. “People sent pictures in and some of the people had on their shirts. It all came together.”

To help bring that feeling of community to their races, many of the organizations are continuing to offer T-shirts to participants or face masks, like Laurel Historical Society is doing.

Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services is also encouraging people to form their own small groups in their neighborhoods and do the run together — following proper social distancing guidelines. The Alzheimer’s Association held a virtual pep rally last month in advance of its scheduled walk on Sept. 26 at Centennial Park and will hold a virtual opening ceremony that morning, said Renee Johnson, marketing and communications director for the association.

“We want people to get out with their loved one, wear purple T-shirts [the Alzheimer’s Association’s signature color] and walk,” Johnson said.

It is the sense of “normalcy” that Bennett believes is important to try to preserve. While the McCeney March is a small fundraiser for the museum’s educational programs, this year the focus is not so much on the fundraising, but on the participation, she said.

“It is an opportunity to get out of the house,” Bennett said. “We want to get people out walking and in the community and supporting small businesses.”