By Richard S. Gubbe
Inspired by a fellow runner who died in 2007, Carol Benthal-Bingley has turned a request from a cancer victim into a formidable local charity.
Annie’s Locker is named for the inspiration who led founder and president Benthal-Bingley down the path to procuring shoes for the needy and delivering a message they can embrace forever. The concept of running for two people has become uplifting to both givers and receivers of shoes and other gear. The group’s largest undertaking is this year’s pledge to deliver shoes to 600 children at Rockford’s three most impoverished schools and 300 more elsewhere.
The nonprofit is held under the umbrella of the Rockford Road Runners and has a two-pronged goal “to give gear to people who are in need to instill a healthier life” and “think, pray or offer up good energy to someone else,” Benthal-Bingley said.
The charity utilizes volunteers to get their message across in a card while delivering the goods.
“We can give people shoes, but we are also inspiring people to a healthier lifestyle,” she said. “We plant a little seed about doing what you do for someone else. That could be big. It’s our idea of not just handing over the item. In a year or six months, they won’t fit. Why not include a little inspiration for the child? The parent can read it to them. Then, when they’re out there running and playing, do it for someone who can’t.”
Benthal-Bingley was deeply moved by her friend, Annie, who made a plea to her when she could no longer take part in running races. “Would you run for me until I can run again?” Annie asked.
“I was running for two as I knew she was never going to run again,” Benthal-Bingley said. “You can offer that up for someone who can’t run or walk. I don’t care what religion you are.”
Now, she’s always running for two or more.
Benthal-Bingley is an avid runner who takes part in Rockford Road Runners events. The Rockford Road Runners fall under the Road Runners of America. Annie’s Locker falls under the national charitable arm as a program of the local group. Annie’s Locker operates with its own board, bylaws and financial reporting.
“I’m doing it because she couldn’t,” Benthal-Bingley said. “It was something she needed from me that others couldn’t give her — to run.”
Benthal-Bingley started running 12 years ago at 35. For the past seven years, many miles were logged for Annie.
“I was not an athlete of any kind as a kid,” she said. In regional races, she usually finishes near the top of her age group and takes part in races up to marathon distances. She owns B2 Design, a graphic design firm. She started Annie’s Locker in 2008, and the number of volunteers has grown.
Terri Odell, executive board member and vice president of operations, was the key player in the shoe endeavor. “She has been really amazing at hearing the call and rallying the team to make it happen,” Benthal-Bingley said.
Volunteers went into King, Lewis Lemon and Beyer elementary schools and measured 600 children identified as needy by school officials. Annie’s Locker has contributed to many schools in the Rockford and Harlem districts, but decided to focus on three needy schools while taking special requests from other schools. Hence, the need for 900 pairs of shoes. The deadline for this year’s school program is Sept. 15.
All the shoes donated will be on display Sunday, Sept. 21, as part of the International Day of Peace. A “Shoe Labyrinth” will be installed at the Ethnic Festival in downtown Rockford. The newly collected shoes will line the path of the labyrinth and later be presented to each student. The labyrinth will symbolize “walking together in others’ shoes” and “partnering on life journeys together.”
Benthal-Bingley says the group also tries to buy shoes in bulk from monetary donations. Farm and Fleet stores are giving a 20 percent discount on the shoes purchased for the charity.
Annie’s Locker also uses a “giving tree” approach by letting donors pick a name from one of four locations to give a gift of shoes any time. “Running Tree” drop sites for new children’s gym shoes include Runner’s Image at 219 E. State St., Rockford, Peak Sports Club on Perryville Road in Loves Park, the Postal Shoppe at Edgebrook Shopping Centre, and The FIT at 4227 Maray Drive in Rockford.
Charitable donation sites include Bischoff Dentistry at 6726 Commonwealth Drive, Loves Park, and FitnessWorks at Edgebrook Shopping Center, 1639 N. Alpine Road, Rockford. Keep Illinois Beautiful accepts new shoe donations at 13125 N. Second St., Loves Park, and 4665 Hydraulic Road, Rockford. Cash donations can also be made online at www.annieslocker.org.
The 2014 Annie’s Locker all-volunteer team also includes Denise Brauer, board of directors and events coordinator; Carol Wilson, gear coordinator; Stephanie Lammi, board of directors and communications chairman; Terri Watson, board of directors and race sponsorship coordinator; Natalie Brunson, community outreach team member; Jeanne Perian, operations assistant; Jeff Wilmarth, executive board and community outreach chairman; Tracy Richter, executive board and secretary; Troy Skwor, community liaison; Shannon Teunissen, executive board, vice president of finances and treasurer; and Dani Watson, communications assistant.
From the Sept. 3-9, 2014, issue