HUNDREDS GATHER FOR 19TH ANNUAL HIKE FOR HOPE

THE EAGLE TRIBUNE

A sea of red shirts filled The Park in Andover Sunday morning as hundreds of walkers gathered for the 19th annual Hike for Hope.

More than 600 walkers participated in this year's 5K to support Lazarus House in Lawrence, a homeless shelter working to break the cycle of poverty in the Merrimack Valley. The event raised more than $130,000.

For many of the staff and people who use Lazarus House services, the day was more than just a fundraising event.

Edwin Bonilla, a long-time guest and Lawrence resident, looks forward to the walk every year. Bonilla, though he walks with poles for support, is determined to partake in the walk, supporting a place that means so much to him.

"I keep on doing it and I will do it for as long as I can," he said.

Bonilla has been participating in the walk for 11 years, and this year he was the captain of Team Eddie, one of 45 teams that registered this year. He wore a white T-shirt, like all team captains, to represent his leadership position and involvement in the walk.

Tiny Tunes, the premier sponsor of the walk, performed the National Anthem with help from the crowd to kick off the walk.

Bridget Shaheen, executive director of Lazarus House, has been a part of the hike since it began 19 years ago.

"One of the reasons I love this event is because it's families creating a better world for other families," she said.

Shaheen said that during the walk, no one is judged and everyone is accepted regardless of their backgrounds. The walk brings people together who share the desire to do good, like herself.

"Everyone is the same, it doesn't matter where you're from," she said. "Everyone here is just perfect."

This year's walk welcomed back veteran walkers and new walkers as well.

Melissa Zuluago, 16, of Lawrence, was participating in the walk for her first time. She was walking with her friend Olga Valentin, also 16 of Lawrence, who walked last year. The two girls are students at Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School in Lawrence, where a group of about 20 students participated in the walk this year.

"It's so fun because you get to walk around with your friends for a good cause," said Valentin.

The day was filled with music, food, games, and of course, giving back.

"The hike is an event that brings together so many different people," said Lazarus House Director of Development Kelley Granahan.

Close to 100 volunteers offered to help at the event, including a number of Austin Preparatory students who were the first to show up, helping to set up at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Dave McGillivray, longtime race director of the Boston Marathon and founder of the Hike for Hope, addressed the crowd with a touching speech before the walk began.

"You are all going to heaven," he said, and thanked the crowd for being there and for their generosity.

McGillivray donated a delivery truck to the Lazarus House, a huge surprise to the staff.

Lazarus House has three thrift stores located across Lawrence on Hampshire Street, South Union Street and Essex Street. They use their trucks to deliver furniture, food and other goods to their stores. For a while, they have been down a truck.

"We've had to turn donors away because our truck was not fixable," said Granahan. "So this is huge for us."