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Holiday traditions on virus hiatus; charity 5K among canceled annual events

  • Amanda Hull, of Barnard, Vt., readies her 11-month-old daughter Tanner for a walk on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2020, in Barnard.( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

  • Amanda Hull takes her 11-month-old daughter Tanner for a walk on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2020, in Barnard, Vt . Hull, a Hartland native and Woodstock Elementary kindergarten teacher, plans to participate in Thursday’s Zack’s Place Turkey Trot. A Woodstock Thanksgiving Day tradition, the race has been forced to go virtual in its 14th year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/25/2020 6:21:10 PM
Modified: 11/25/2020 7:56:59 PM

Amanda Hull has grown accustomed to participating in the Zack’s Place Turkey Trot every Thanksgiving morning.

The fun, she said, is “getting to see plenty of other people I grew up with and families that I know.

“When you go around by the covered bridge, and you pass other runners around that area, and you’re like ‘Hey, how are you? Happy Thanksgiving!,’ ” she said. “Just getting to see people you don’t see every day is a good way to start off the holiday.”

And she’ll join in this year, too. Except instead of walking the five-kilometer course that wraps around Woodstock, Hull will take on the trot on her own, near her home in Barnard.

This is the 14th consecutive year that Zack’s Place has held the race, but the first time it won’t be held in person. Instead, participants are running or walking 3.2 miles at a time and place of their choosing, dispersing the crowd as a safety precaution against COVID-19. Participants pay race fees to Zack’s Place, a nonprofit that provides a free setting where individuals of all ages with special needs can explore different programs and develop friendships.

Hull plans to walk her 3.2-mile loop with her 11-month-old daughter, Tanner, in a stroller, at their leisure sometime on turkey day. She is one of hundreds of people planning to do the same around the Upper Valley and beyond.

“This year it is definitely different,” Hull said. “It is sad not to see everybody in the morning at the turkey trot or get together with all our family and friends. It’s taken that part of Thanksgiving away, but I’m just trying to stay positive. We’re doing all this to be safe and so everybody can be together next year.”

Hull is a kindergarten teacher at Woodstock Elementary, and her students remain excited for Thanksgiving despite all the oddities that 2020 has brought. Her students still got in on the traditional arts and crafts too, making some turkey hats and plates recently in class.

As a Hartland native, Woodstock High grad and now the Wasps’ girls lacrosse coach, Hull is keenly aware of the excitement that the Turkey Trot brings to town Thanksgiving morning.

Zack’s Place executive director Dail Frates and her family founded Zack’s Place in 2006, named for their son who had cerebral palsy and who died in 2011. When Zack’s Place launched the trot in 2007, almost 200 participants signed up. Last year, 1,500 people participated and raised $80,000 through race fees and other donations.

As of Wednesday morning, Frates said $50,000 had been raised by 831 participants. Registration was reduced to from $30 to $25 this year and registrants can purchase a special edition long sleeve shirt for $10.

Previous fundraisers this year have been a mixed bag for the center, which pivoted to Zoom classes and some outdoor activities. A golf tournament brought in 90% of its typical take, but then a fundraising plea in May didn’t come close to half of its returns.

The operational costs right now include paying employees, keeping overhead and make sure cash is on hand when things return to normal.

“As a nonprofit, we are very, very fortunate,” Frates said. “I am overwhelmed by the support and generosity of everyone.”

Zack’s Place, which is calling this year’s race a “virtual” trot, isn’t keeping track of runners’ or walkers’ times, in part because everybody will run on their own type of course. Frates said if someone chooses to run a route filled with hills while another sticks to flatter ground, the times can’t be compared.

In years past, some runners from Hawaii, Florida and New York have taken part in the trot as “satellite participants.” This year, that’s everybody.

A band had been hired to play on the Woodstock Green on Thanksgiving morning for those who chose to trot on the usual route, but that was called off earlier this week because of new COVID-19 restrictions.

“I think people will be out there all day long,” Frates said. “It will be raining, so I’m not sure how many people will do it in the rain. I know I’ll be out there with my family. Everybody’s had to adjust their Thanksgiving, and we just want to keep people safe.”

With COVID-19 cases rising in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott has asked people to stick to a single household gathering for the holiday, and Hull said that Thursday’s celebration will include just her immediate family.

If there’s one positive of going virtual, it’s that she won’t have to wake up early to get into town for the race. Instead, Tanner will dictate when they hit the streets — probably after nap time.

Pete Nakos can be reached at

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