CRANFORD, NJ — Last year on the day after Thanksgiving, Amy Andre awoke with her family on brisk morning for a challenge. It wasn’t to battle the crowds in a Black Friday scramble, but rather to run around Ray White Track in Cranford to raise money for a community animal shelter.
This year, she and her family will hit the track at the high school athletic field again, likely in 40-degree weather, to raise money for the Brain Tumor Society.
For some, the day after Thanksgiving is reserved for shopping, lines and sales, but for Andre and her family, the day is about Track Friday.
Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, is annually challenged by the Cranford Jaycees, a leadership training and civic organization that hosts an alternative event focusing on charity, community and health.
According to the National Retail Federation, $655.8 billion was spent during last year’s holiday season from November to December. This year, it expects the spending to increase to $682 billion.
While millions will choose to flock to the nearest shopping centers, more than 100 Cranford residents will exercise to raise money for charities.
In its fifth year, Track Friday encourages the holiday spirit of giving through the organization of an annual fundraiser. The community is called upon to participate in athletic exercise while donating to a charity at the Ray White Track at Memorial Field in Cranford on Myrtle Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“The benefits to participating are being able to help those in need, which is always good,” Cranford Jaycees member Arthur Hearns told LocalSource in a Nov. 15 email. “Also bringing more awareness and exposure to a charity helps the charity and those it benefits.”
From hurricane relief in Puerto Rico to new musical instruments for Cranford middle schools, participants can donate to an existing charitable organization or create their own local cause at the trackfriday.org website.
Since 2012, more than $160,000 has been raised for various charities, according to the Track Friday website.
“Donations last year came from 262 people and at the track we had around 150 plus people throughout the day,” Hearns said. “This year we would like to increase that by 50 percent.”
Cranford is one of three towns in New Jersey, and one of 14 nationally, that will participate in Track Friday, event founder Eric Rubinson told LocalSource. Middletown and Highland Park will also host the event.
For those that don’t want to run, there are other ways to get involved and participate, Hearns added.
Residents can donate to an existing charity on the leaderboard or show up to support others at the track on event day, to be a part of the gathering.
“You can socialize, walk, run or just be present,” he said.
The event is free of distance requirements, fundraising minimums and performance expectations, the usual fixtures of other charity running or walking teams. Without the strict requirements, participants can support any cause they care to, go any distance they wish and take all the time they want, according to the Track Friday website.
In addition to residents attending, local businesses such as Track 5 Coffee will sell a special “Track Friday” blend of coffee at the event.
The coffee can be purchased as a bag or a freshly brewed coffee providing all proceeds to the New York City Relief Bus, a missionary organization that serves the homeless population.