Connecticut Post (Sunday)

Trick-or-Trot essential for Beth-El Center’s battle against homelessne­ss

- By Saul Flores

MILFORD — Beth-El Center’s annual Milford Trick or Trot 5K is leaving the virtual world and returning to the city’s downtown later this month.

The 10th annual Milford Trick or Trot 5K will hit the road Oct. 30 at Lisman Landing, and Beth-El Center Executive Director Jennifer Paradis could not be more excited to see this all-important fundraiser back in person after the pandemic pushed it virtual last year.

“We were happy to do our ninth event virtual, so this year it could be our 10th year in a row doing it,” Paradis said. “A lot of people who participat­ed year after year did come back and participat­ed in the virtual event, but we are excited to be all together again.”

All proceeds of the race go to the Beth-El Center to support its homeless shelter, food programs and outreach and engagement efforts to assist those experienci­ng homelessne­ss and hunger in the Milford area.

“This is an event that is joyful, but it is a necessary event that helps us raise the funds that we need to support our programs,” Paradis said, adding that participan­ts of all ages — even pets — are encouraged to get into the Halloween spirit and wear costumes while they run.

“What’s really great is that it is Milford’s Hallow-Weekend,” she added. “The city puts on a wonderful event downtown, with door to door business trick-or-treating, events on The Green and the Trick or Trot kicks it off. So it’s a good time to get a little exercise in before we all eat our body weight in candy.”

The 5K runs along the shoreline coming out of Lisman Landing and historic downtown Milford.

“It’s a beautiful route, and I look forward to that run because it’s got a healthy mix of street and beautiful scenic roads,” Paradis said. “We are fortunate to be in this community, that is so beautiful, and it’s hard to imagine 38 percent of the community is cost-burdened. Because when you are running this route, you see historic downtown Milford, but because you are participat­ing in this event, you are aware of the need of the city, but also getting to experience its beauty, too.”

Some 100 runners have already registered, but Beth-El Center officials are still calling for more to participat­e.

“In terms of typical runners, I think back to 2019, where we had more than 400 runners,” she added. “There were lots of kids, teenagers, and we had a bunch of high school students who were on their cross country team running. It really is something that everybody can enjoy.”

Before Beth-El Center's first-ever Trick or Trot 5K run, they held a one-mile walk in the city with faith leaders to raise awareness for homelessne­ss in Milford.

“It was a walk-in solidarity between faith leaders to bring awareness to this invisible population of people in Milford,” Paradis said. “We are really excited that the awareness of that has turned into an event that brings in 300 runners and that we are all coming together for this purpose. It is incredible, and it is a lot of fun.”

“We still have a lot of faith communitie­s walking together and using this time for remembranc­e and rededicati­ng themselves in ending the homelessne­ss in Milford,” she added.

The Trick or Trot 5K race has become one of Beth-El Center’s largest fundraiser­s. Paradis said the impact these large fundraiser­s have on the center is enormous.

“We open up a completely different shelter during the wintertime for individual­s and families to protect folks who would typically be un-sheltered during the winter season in the city, and so a lot of folks know us for our 90day emergency shelter program,” she said. “This fundraiser, in particular, ensures that we can operate that no-freeze program, which is what we call it.”

Beth-El Center’s NoFreeze program has 27 beds and is at 100 percent capacity from November to April.

“We are unable to operate that program without the Trick or Trot,” Paradis said. “That gives us the support that we need to operate that program faithfully and effectivel­y.”

Paradis said many people do not realize they have two separate shelter programs with one just being around cold weather.

“When I say it’s lifesaving, I’m not being hyperbolic,” she said. “I’ve been in this work for a long time and unfortunat­ely have seen folks who have passed away from hypothermi­a and from exposure to the winter elements in Connecticu­t. Thankfully, we are able to operate that program every year and not turn people away.”

The critical part of BethEl Center’s no-freeze program is people can walk right into it.

“The shelter services in the state of Connecticu­t really rely on people to enter through the 211 system, and there are waitlists,” Paradis said. “We have more than 300 individual men on our waitlist and more than 100 women and more than 35 shelters, and so it’s really critical when hypothermi­a is a risk factor, that folks have programs they can walk right into at night. That’s the flexibilit­y of the no-freeze shelter program.”

Without large fundraiser­s like the 5K Trick or Trot, Beth-El Center would have to start to prioritize its core functions.

“We are most known for our emergency shelter services and our soup kitchen programs that offer daily nutritious meals,” said Paradis. “We also have an outreach program, supportive housing program and a homeless diversion program, and the more we can do in our outreach program and diversion program, the better. Because that means that the folks who are utilizing our emergency shelter and soup kitchen services are folks who are truly rebuilding themselves, meaning they do not have a lot of other resources to be able to pull together.”

“When we are not able to raise the funds to operate those, what seem like secondary programs, but are so critical to the mission of ending homelessne­ss and ending hunger, we are back to square one of crisis management and not doing anything in prevention,” Paradis added. “It’s that constant pull of yes we offer emergency shelter and daily soup kitchen services, but our goal is to end this crisis in our community that has been around for decades.”

The registrati­on fee is $29 for the first 150 people who sign up and $32 afterward, and for participan­ts 18 and younger, the registrati­on fee is $22. Those who register by Oct. 15 receive an event t-shirt. Registrati­on begins at 7:30 a.m., and a shotgun start is at 9 a.m.

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