SCARBOROUGH – The first time Sean Griffin organized a local road race, he learned the difficulties of putting together a 5-kilometer run.

But he didn’t give up on the idea. This spring he returned to the task of putting together a second road race. He learned the intricacies and got creative in getting the word out about the 5-kilometer run through Scarborough on May 30.

But Griffin’s purpose isn’t just to get people to the starting line. He plans to spend this month putting the final touches on the “Key to the Community 5K,” and he chose to designate the race proceeds for the South Portland Food Cupboard.

Griffin, a senior at Scarborough High, runs indoor track, outdoor track and cross country. He’s been involved in service learning since middle school, when he joined the Scarborough Middle School Builders Club, a volunteer service group run by his father, Tom, who is a middle-school teacher and coaches the Red Storm softball team.

“I knew I wanted to do some kind of program to help the community,” said Griffin, who plans to study mathematics at Dartmouth. “I chose a road race because I’m really into track. And I didn’t want to just participate in a road race. I was interested in learning how to organize one, and what goes on behind the scenes.”

After attending a session titled “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” at the South Portland Food Cupboard, Griffin learned not only about the Cupboard’s mission, but about the people it provides for, who aren’t the stereotypical clients of a neighborhood food bank. They were families who could have been his neighbors, classmates, friends and teammates.

“At a meeting I went to, they told stories from families and showed a clip from the national news about families who go to food banks and cupboards,” Griffin said. “It was eye-opening. One family, their father got injured on the job and their mom had to work two jobs. Even that wasn’t enough to get enough income. It really goes against the idea that people who go to food pantries and need help putting food on the table are only a certain kind of people. A lot of the families I saw were hardworking families who had bad luck.”

The South Portland Cupboard helps families in Scarborough, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and other southern Cumberland County towns by providing a week’s worth of food each month for those who qualify.

Sybil Riemensnider, the director and a volunteer at the South Portland Food Cupboard, said the 14-year-old organization is a 100 percent volunteer effort that provides for 50 families a week. Each family comes in once a month to accept a week’s worth of perishable and non-perishable food, as well as personal-care items such as shampoo, toothpaste and paper towels.

Riemensnider said her organization’s mission is to serve families, the elderly and the incapacitated in the South Portland area. She also emphasized its policy.

“You are not here to judge,” Riemensnider said. “You are here to serve.”

Griffin is a member of the Key Club’s board of directors, who are required to organize a community service project. When he took on the task of organizing his first road race last spring, Griffin kept a certain type of beneficiary in mind.

“I knew I wanted to work with a local organization,” Griffin said.

“Last year I knew it wouldn’t raise much money but I wanted the money to go to a place where it would make the biggest impact. It’s the most local organization that would directly help people. I really admire their mission.”

To promote the race, Griffin organized a Facebook events page, distributed flyers to local businesses and at track meets to members of other schools’ teams, and contacted other Key Clubs and Kiwanis chapters in southern Maine.

“Last year I learned that 90 percent of getting people to a road race is getting the word out,” Griffin said. “Getting people to come is the hardest part.”

Gary Downs, the faculty adviser to Scarborough’s Key Club, and Scarborough track coach Ron Kelly have helped Griffin oversee the event, as far as notifying town officials, obtaining permits, planning a 5-kilometer race route — which begins at 1 p.m. at the Scarborough Library and ends at Wentworth Intermediate School.

“This is not an easy thing for anyone, let alone a high school student to do,” Downs said. “Road races, and I run them myself, tend to build themselves.”

Looking back at his first road race, Griffin realized he didn’t plan well last year. The race drew only 20 runners and Griffin learned about the many facets involved in organizing a road race.

“I took a lot out of last year,” Griffin said. “This year I learned about having a set itinerary and following it, especially doing it all on computer rather than hand-writing it. It’s a lot more efficient and clean, and I know exactly what I need to do each week and what to work on.”

When he spearheaded the second race, Griffin also faced another quandary — accept food donations or charge an entry fee?

One week’s worth of food for one person, Riemensnider said, costs $100.

“A food pantry would much rather have money because people, when they think of donating to a food pantry, they might think, ‘Oh, I’ll donate a can of green beans,’ ” Griffin said. “That will expire much sooner and is more expensive than what a food pantry can buy.”

While he believes he’s learned from the first process of organizing a road race, Griffin has set one goal for this year’s Key to the Community — to have 75 participants. With a registration fee of $12 before the race and $15 the day of, having 75 participants would raise at least $900 for the South Portland Food Cupboard.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Riemensnider said. “It brings tears to my eyes because it’s so special. It’s not the normal thing.

“There are very few young people his age who think of doing something for a community organization that serves others in need. He will continue to do that for all of his life.”

 

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

[email protected]