Close to 700 participants, volunteers and staff from across the Merrimack Valley gathered for the 18th annual Hike for Hope on Sunday afternoon to raise money for Lazarus House, a nonprofit organization in Lawrence that assists the homeless. 

The three-mile walk, starting in The Park off Bartlet Street, raised $120,000 before the event even began, however, Lazarus House hopes to reach its goal of $200,000.

“Last year, it was a little bit rainy and today there isn’t a cloud in the sky,” said Lazarus House spokeswoman Gabby Cruz. “We are fundraising and taking donations for this event through Nov. 1.”

Dave McGillivray, longtime race director of the Boston Marathon, started the event in 2000 when he proposed that Lazarus House create its own fundraiser and offered to run the event.

The first few walks helped pay for some of the transitional housing units, such as Capernaum Place, to help those without homes restart their lives after they leave shelters. 

Money raised for the Hike for Hope goes toward many of the services and programs offered at Lazarus House, including a soup kitchen, thrift stores and English-as-a-second-language courses.

Lazarus House has nine buildings throughout Lawrence, including an emergency shelter with about 40 beds that serves as short-term housing for families and individuals. There are also three transitional housing units and a food pantry that provides nearly 800 families each week with emergency food supplies.

Local residents were eager to participate in the walk and help a cause that affects many so close to home.

“Knowing it is five minutes from our house when we are lucky enough to live in this community is the best reason,” said Dawn Simpson of North Andover, who attended the event with her young children.

Simpson said her family has been giving back and donating to Lazarus House for several years.

“We do it every year with my kids,” Simpson said. “I think it’s important to show your kids that you have to give back to the people who don’t have what you have.”

Hannah Hanson of Andover, who attended the event with her mother, Mary Hanson, said for them it's all about raising awareness and positive energy.

"People just get consumed with their everyday lives and they forget that there’s people out there struggling," she added. "It’s just a reminder that we are all one community."

Hamburgers and hotdogs were served to walkers and volunteers, a disc jockey played upbeat music, and a clown tied balloon animals for children. Lawrence High School’s ROTC program led the color guard.

"This is one of our favorite events because we get to see so many people that support us," Cruz said. "There are a lot of our guests here, too, that get to walk with us and it’s all kind of in solidarity to hopefully break the cycle of poverty."

Bridget Shaheen, executive director of Lazarus House, said this year’s walk was significant more than ever because of the devastating impact of hurricanes in the South and Puerto Rico.

“We understand what that’s about, having nothing,” Shaheen said.

Organizers emphasized the impact the participants have on less-fortunate families in giving them a safe place to sleep and food to eat.

“As relief efforts begin and continued evacuations occur from disaster-stricken islands, we are absolutely already taking in families fleeing from what was left of the disasters,” Cruz said. “While we continue to pray for what has happened in other areas, we are hoping those in our community will respond to the needs close to home.”