Jim Lambert had read and heard plenty the last few months about the current situation in Newark, where elevated lead levels have forced thousands of residents to rely on other sources for their water.
As one of the state’s most veteran cross country and track writers, he also knows that running and drinking water are two things that go hand-in-hand.
Lambert, now a content manager for Flo Sports/Mile Split after covering the sport more than 25 years at the Star-Ledger, also knew that on Oct. 5, nearly 250 schools from New Jersey and neighboring states, many with boys and girls teams, would be converging on Holmdel Park for the New Balance Shore Coaches Invitational. Collectively, they’d account for thousands of athletes and spectators at the state’s most famed cross-country venue.
And with that, an idea was born. If each team, which typically brings along plenty of bottled water anyway, brought an extra case to be donated to the people of Newark, thousands of people could benefit.
“FloSports has several sub committees, and this project stems from my involvement with the FloImpact Committee, whose goal is to reach out into communities and help make a difference in the lives of those in need,” Lambert said.
Through the cooperation of the Shore Track Coaches Association and the statewide cross-country community, the water drive turned into a major success.
A large truck provided by Fulfill, a food bank based in Monmouth County, was parked adjacent to the area where buses drop off the teams at the park. Sure enough, by the end of the day, 525 cases of water were donated.
Many of the teams delivered more than one case. Kingsway, in fact, had every one of its runners donate one.
“The first thing I did was contact meet management for the Shore Coaches Invitational, Meet Director Brian Decker and Assistant Meet Director Steve Theobald, to see if it would be okay to have a water drive at their meet,” Lambert said. “Once we got their support, I contacted David Goldstein, the Vice President of Operations for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. After I explained what we wanted to do, he suggested I reach out to Fulfill, a food bank in Neptune, to see if they would be willing to provide a truck to collect and transport the water. When I contacted Fulfill, Chuck Watson, the Operations Manager of the company, offered to help any way he could. He said he could have a 26 foot truck dropped off at Holmdel Park on Friday and pick it up on Saturday.”
Theobald met with Adam Harran, the Head Ranger at Holmdel Park, to make sure it was okay to have the truck parked in their lot. He said it would be fine. The truck was parked right next to where the buses unloaded the teams, so it all worked out perfectly.”
The only other issue was whether or not the teams would respond. And in true New Jersey fashion, they did so in a major way.
“It says how much the running community in our great state cares about helping those in need, and can rally around a great cause to make an impact on the lives of people,” Lambert said. “I figured that the best case scenario would be for every school to bring one case, which would have been around 230 cases. To collect more than double that blows my mind. All day long the water kept flowing out of the buses. There was a point during the day when I thought we might need a bigger truck!”
The 499th and 500th cases were donated by Shawnee, which was glad to do its part to help.
“I think it’s cool how every can join together to help,” said Ryan Czechowski, one of the runners for the Burlington County school.
“It’s a pretty easy thing to do, and it can help people who really need it,” said Shawnee coach Gary Hill. “We heard about it, and said ‘We can definitely do that.’”
That’s the same spirit that inspired each Kingsway runner to bring a case of water, even though the Gloucester County school is nearly 100 miles away from Newark.
“Our coach said it was for a good cause, so we got together and wanted to do something to help,” said Dragons’ runner Gavin Casella. “Everybody here today is part of one big family and one big community.”
“This was another great example of the cross-country and track and field community in New Jersey rallying together to help those in need,” said Bill Bruno, the NJSIAA Assistant Director who is in charge of those sports. “It’s fantastic that high school sports and the athletes participating in them can have a positive role in helping those who are in need.”
Several others deserve credit in making the water drive such a success. Robert Kellert, the NJ MileSplit state editor, worked tirelessly to promote the effort on his NJ MileSplit page and on social media. Also present were Brandon Shymanski, Frank Fanelli, Nick LeDonne, Ryan Lynn, and Jared Tricomy, all members of the Ocean County College men’s cross-country team, who collected and loaded the water throughout the day.
“It was an awesome day,” said Lambert. “To watch all the cross-country runners, coaches and parents in the state come together for a collective good really warmed my heart. It was awesome! On behalf of FloSports/MileSplit, thanks to everyone who made the water drive such a huge success. It sure feels good to help make a difference and see the outpouring of support among the running community.”