Community is a word being heard more and more in the running world. From vibrant run groups and clubs, to the enthusiasm surrounding races and charitable events, runners are a supportive and generous tribe.
When you add in a love of sweat effort and the sense of community found at local running stores, like Healdsburg Running Company (HRC) in Healdsburg, California, that’s when the magic happens. HRC was spared during the devastating fires that ravaged California wine country in October. But much of their community wasn’t.
“The fires hit on Monday. By Tuesday, we had people wandering into the store,” says HRC owner Skip Brand. “People left their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a pair of shoes if they were lucky. They had nothing.”
Those local citizens were looking for shoes, for socks, for the basics that most of us take for granted. Skip and his wife, Holly, started handing out the shoes in the store’s recycled shoe bin. Then they reached out to brands and the response was overwhelming.
Vendor partners donated fleets of demo shoes. Patagonia sent fleece jackets. Oiselle sent gear. Feetures donated socks (which Holly said were hugely popular). Salomon sent shirts. New Balance vendors from Southern California drove up with gear to donate because the post offices were closed and other shipping centers destroyed. Races donated shirts. The November Project hosted runs to collect gear.
“This effort shows the power of running and giving back,” Holly says. “We’re getting the credit, but it’s truly been a community effort.”
The Brands got the word out about making donations and having free gear for whoever needed it—runners or not—through social media. A friend of a friend who had lost everything in the fires also approached Devon Yanko, a professional ultrarunner and co-owner of M. H. Bread & Butter in San Anselmo with her husband Nathan, for gear. Inspired, she and Brett and Larissa Rivers of the San Francisco Running Company (SFRC) in Mill Valley reached out to the Brands and started collecting gear at SFRC to take to Healdsburg. Yanko also turned to social media to promote the idea and soon had gear arriving from around the country.
“The idea of runners helping runners was all Devon,” says Skip, who quickly realized the need was far greater than what he and Holly were able to satisfy. “We would have been out of donations without those guys coming up to bring and sort gear.”
Some who have sought help are runners seeking a return to running and sense of normalcy. Others simply need comfortable shoes as they begin the process of rebuilding their lives. Thanks to donations the formidable crew has gotten shoes and clothes on thousands of people.
Quinn Carrasco, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, and works for La Sportiva, spent an afternoon at HRC in early November and said, “I literally saw people leaving in tears because they were so appreciative of the help.”
Yanko shared that she’s amazed at the running community’s willingness to help. Many of the local runs in wine country are now charity runs for local fire relief. And, according to Skip, a lot of people are running those races in new gear.
“A very cool moment for me was when Skip told me Cloverdale Marathon had gone forward. He told me that so many runners were ‘wearing my clothes’ and had been able to participate because of the joint effort with runners helping runners,” Yanko says. “It just means a lot to me that I could help give back to the running community in a meaningful way. I hope in the future to help inspire others to do the same for other communities affected by these devastating events.”
The fires are extinguished, but people are still coming by and HRC and the local community are still helping with whatever it can. The store is now selling Sonoma Strong shirts to benefit the community fire relief fund. The shirts cost $40 and are available both at HRC and online.
“The need is going to exist for a long time,” Skip says of the recovery from the fires.