Annual run is growing tradition to help veterans

In a new annual tradition, Independence Day festivities in Keizer opened with a run on the Saturday before the Fourth.

The Vets Fest 5K from Help Oregon Veterans was held on July 1, as runners and walkers made their way through McNary Estates to help veterans find shelter. 

This was the third year for the 5K, as the event continues to grow.

“What started off as a bit of a struggle for us, just because we had no notoriety, nobody knew us, is now becoming more of a, it’s not an institution yet, but I could see that happening,” Help Oregon Veterans Director Robert Wood said. “I could see people starting to look forward to an event like this.”

And it wouldn’t be able to grow without the help of a base of volunteers that is also growing.

Wood attributes most of it to word-of-mouth, as the number of volunteers has gone up from 20 for the inaugural run in 2021 to 50 for this year’s — which Wood called “extraordinary.”

And that growing group of volunteers is needed as the entrant pool steadily grows as well. 

The first year, Vets Fest had just four entrants. 2022 saw 39 runners and walkers take the course. This year, there were 55. 

All proceeds from the event go towards providing services for veterans, primarily providing shelter for those sleeping on the streets. 

“Our fund is pretty small still, so we haven’t had a significant impact yet, but I think we’ll get there,” Wood said.

If and when they do get there, Wood believes they can do some real good. And without the same regulations that government agencies have, he believes they may be able to do more than what is currently offered, but there is still the need for Wood and Help Oregon Veterans to get the word out.

“We have people sleeping in the gutters here, if you’re not aware of it, then you’re not living in this community,” Wood said. “We can do better than the city government can because they have all kinds of rules and restrictions, and we can probably do a better job of providing housing.”