The Pan Florida Cycling Challenge For Hungry Kids

It’s become popular amongst bike enthusiasts to participate in charity rides.  These are rides that vary in distance but are done as a fundraising event.  You pay or fundraise a certain amount in order to go on a supported bike ride, and proceeds go to a designated charity.  This past weekend I rode 177 miles with the Pan Florida Challenge for Hungry Kids. The only other charity ride I’ve ever done was a 100 mile Tour de Cure for Diabetes.

I shy away from these rides because I ask my network to help me all the time: from traditional fundraising, to supplies for the Camillus House camp, to the school PTO activities. From this blog alone I’ve raised over $30,000 through various Ironman triathlons and projects. I have a feeling my friends see me coming and turn the other way hoping I didn’t see them!  I’m not knocking the Tour de Cure at all. I just believe this experience might have been different then I would get at say, the Ride for MS, the Climate Ride, or the Dolphins Cycling Challenge.  All are worthy causes, but I wanted to share what made this ride so special to me.

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Signs at one of the water stops in LaBelle, Florida. The name is a bit misleading, but it was a wonderful town!

The Cause

As soon as I read that 1 in 5 children in Florida were food insecure I was shocked, angered, and upset.  I grew up in South America, I understand people go hungy. But I always looked at the United States as a “developed country” unlike the one I was in.  I just assumed this sort of stuff didn’t happen here.  Well, it does.  Families go hungry for a myriad of reasons. Regardless of my political beliefs of why or how this happens, children must eat.  They MUST.  It’s just not okay for kids to not know when their next meal will be anywhere in the world, much less in my backyard.

You can read more about the cause here.

In short, we fundraised to purchase Power Packs of food for children to take home with them on Friday afternoons. Thousands of children don’t have enough to eat when they are not in school. Where my kids greet the weekend, spring break and summer vacations with cheer, these kids look at it with anxiety because their food insecurity is heightened. Each Power Pack costs $5 and feeds one child, for one weekend between their free lunch at school on Friday and their free breakfast at school on Monday.

One of the schools where children receive food assistance.

Another water stop at a school where children receive food assistance.

The Fundraising Amount

The minimum fundraising amount is $1,500.  100% of donations go directly to the cause.  Sponsors come in to pay for the overnight “hotel” (I stayed in a trailer!), food, and support.  Raising $1,500 is intimidating.  It also means that everyone who rides with you is as passionate about the cause as you are.  Most people wouldn’t pay $1,500 for a weekend ride; so chances are they were fundraising and speaking about this issue as much as you were.

And by fundraising, riders were able to spread the message to their network of friends that childhood hunger is real.  Maybe someone out there reading this didn’t know, and now they do.  It is a great way of gaining attention to the cause.

The organization provides you with all the support you need, from pictures and logos to sample emails.  There is a google drive with resources galore. Once on the ride, they even send pictures of you riding to your donors!

One of the pictures sent by email to my donors.

One of the pictures sent by email

Logistics

Everything was taken care of.  Other than packing your bag, you don’t have to think about a thing.  Your bags magically go from Naples, to Clewiston, West Palm Beach.  Your hotel reservation is made for you, all your meals are included and even a shower at the LA Fitness located at the finish line is part of the deal.

The accommodation in Clewiston was nothing to brag home about; I was in a trailer which is far from luxury.  As I walked to the restaurant area, I had the view of a landfill. But I also didn’t need luxury.  I would rather stay in a modest place so that more of the funds could go towards the cause.

Support

What lacked in accommodations was certainly made up for in support. There was a water stop every twenty miles or so.  But it was so hot on Saturday people started running out of water in between stops.  So one support car radioed another and voila, every five miles or so there was an impromptu water van.  If you needed a refill you stopped, and someone ran to you with a gallon of water to top off your bottles, and if you were okay you would signal and keep riding.  In another five miles, there was the same car again waiting in case you needed water.  Seriously. And it wasn’t only water.  They had a stash of goodies in case someone was bonking.

This woman was always there!

This woman was our life saving water lady! Thank YOUUUUU

Oh and a flat tire? In a millisecond SAG was there.  They must have had so many SAG vehicles to be able to coordinate all of that.   On the second day, I had back spasms and got dropped from my ride group.  They didn’t want to drop me, but I didn’t want to keep pushing my back just to keep up.  About three cars drove by me to check if I was okay.  I was, and on the next stop I caught up to a group and joined them.

Another asset is Maura, the Executive Director. Even before I met her, she told me no pace was too fast or two slow, and eased all my fears regardless of what they were.

Speaking of pacing.  There was a group for every style.  From the fastest group led by the Stradelli women’s professional cycling team to the kickstand group using fat tire bikes.  You were never going to be out of place.

Its weird to think we were riding for hunger, but were met with banquets of food. None of it went to waste, ever.

Its weird to think we were riding for hunger, but were met with banquets of food. None of it went to waste, ever.

Route

By far, my favorite part of all this was the route.  Although you do pass through some scenic areas especially in Wellington this is not the most beautiful way of crossing the state of Florida from West to East. In fact, there was some dicey riding and some pretty rough looking neighborhoods.  When we approached one water stop, we were quickly ushered inside a Fellowship Building and told to come inside and bring our bikes in with us. You could sense our hosts were nervous about having us dilly dally outside for too long.  But the route was perfect because we rode by many of the schools which receive the weekend Power Packs.  In one town, the community had put on a big party for us to show their gratitude.  And a group of motorcycles from that town rode next to us for many miles “protecting” us. Some of the rest stops were at the schools.

This biker rode next to us for many miles. They were great, but the God Bless America song together with the exhaust got a little old.

This biker rode next to us for many miles. They were great, but the God Bless America song was constantly on

What I loved most is that I saw exactly who and where my efforts were benefitting.  It was SO IMPORTANT to see that in order to connect the bike ride (which I love) to the hunger (which I hate).  Otherwise, it could’ve been any ride for any cause.  Going through these towns, being greeted by the communities, and being thanked by the beneficiaries made everything click into an extraordinarily meaningful event.

So if you like doing charity rides, or are thinking of doing one, I recommend the Pan Florida Cycling Challenge for Hungry Kids without reservations.

Hunger doesn't always look like a minority

Hunger doesn’t always look like a minority

Next post will be on my experience on the ride itself.

15 thoughts on “The Pan Florida Cycling Challenge For Hungry Kids

  1. What a great cause! I love the power pack idea – we have kids at our school who don’t have much between lunch on Friday and breakfast Monday. And then we have snow days here too…

  2. Wow! 177 miles! That’s insane! I live in Florida, a couple miles north of West Palm and I know only too well about some of the shady neighborhoods that you may have to bike through. I did a color run one year in Orlando and it was not in the best area either. I love all of the support that was given to all of the bikers!

  3. That sounds like an amazing experience. I would love to do something like that but I fear fundraising would be more challenging than the ride itself. That was my experience fundraising for a marathon. But what an awesome cause!! WTG!!

  4. I am glad you did this. I am also impressed that you seem to be able to pick up and ride 100 miles without training. Looking forward to the next installment!

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