BY JOSEPH BECK
A taco, a bright green dinosaur, a vampire and a bloody doctor made their way to the starting line. Others dressed in spectacular costumes joined them, ready to partake in the ghoulish race. On Oct. 15 at Driskell Park, with the morning sun shining down on around 1,000 participants, the Hyattsville Zombie Run kicked off at 9:30 a.m. This annual school fundraiser, organized by the Hyattsville Elementary School PTA, includes a 5K run/walk, a 1K family fun run/walk and a 1-mile run/walk.
According to this year’s co-race director Matthew Gembecki, Hyattsville resident Kevin Blackerby helped found the event after he “heard from the Hyattsville community that there was an appetite for that kind of run,” referring to the idea of a themed event. The community feedback inspired Blackerby, his wife and a group of other Hyattsville Elementary parents to organize the first Zombie Run, held in October 2016.
“It started as a fun community event that was also meant to raise funds for the local schools,” said Hyattsville Elementary PTA President Lauren Vulanovic.
The Zombie Run’s fundraising reach extends beyond Hyattsville, according to Gembecki: Students from neighboring schools can sign up to create an individual fundraiser for their school. In total, the participants who registered for the event were from 20 schools, including César Chávez Dual Language Spanish Immersion School, Hyattsville Middle School and the Dora Kennedy French Immersion School, according to the Zombie Run website.
Gembecki said this year’s event raised more than $40,000 for Hyattsville Elementary and area schools — a fundraising record for the Zombie Run. Participants from Hyattsville Elementary raised the highest amount of any school, $10,350.
Vulanovic said that Hyattsville Elementary is a Title I school, indicating that many of its students are from low-income families. Funds raised for Hyattsville Elementary, she said, will go towards providing a healthy environment for students and staff, including the purchase of air purifiers for the school, which became a priority following the COVID-19 pandemic. Vulanovic said that money raised will also give teachers stipends to purchase materials for their classroom, like art supplies, writing materials and technology to enhance the learning environment.
Run participants Marisa Ridley and Josh Shepard came to the Zombie Run dressed as matching unicorns. Ridley said that she found out about the event while running on the trails through Hyattsville, when a sign with a QR code led her to the online signup page. She said she signed up because the event supported Hyattsville Elementary and other neighboring schools.
Adam Collick participated in the 1K family fun race with his 8 year-old daughter, Sasha, who ended up receiving an award for raising the most money, a total of $2,500. Others received awards for best costume, best family costume and fastest race time in their respective age groups.
The Hyattsville Elementary PTA will host future events to help support their school and students in need, according to Vulanovic. For Thanksgiving, she said, the PTA will ask for food donations and deliver food baskets to families with financial needs. In December, the PTA will ask community members to purchase toys and clothing for children in low-income households.
Joseph Beck is a student journalist at the University of Maryland.