By Ricki Demarest
Thanksgiving is a time to rest, relax, and … overindulge. Fortunately, there’s an event that helps people “overcome” this issue. For the past five years the Huff and Puff After You Stuff 5k run/walk at Riverside Park in Hackettstown has offered over stuffers a chance to put those Thanksgiving calories to work for a great cause.
This year the race events start at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 24 with runners and walkers grabbing numbers and T shirts at the American Legion building on Willow Grove Street. Then everyone will be moving over to the park for the run, walk, refreshments and other festivities. In addition to the usual prizes and awards there will be photo opportunities with The Hackettstown Tiger and NJ – the New Jersey Devils team mascot.
The lighthearted post-Thanksgiving waddle is sponsored by the organization Smiles for Margaret. All proceeds raised go to help families with children who are fighting cancers, brain tumors and other “life altering diseases.”
Twelve-year-old Margaret Walling of Hackettstown passed away in December 2013 from a malignant brain tumor. Originally, Teri Cichlar of Hackettstown and her husband Steve created the “fun run” to help raise money for Walling’s family during her treatments.
“It was nothing truly organized,” Cichlar said, “just something Margaret’s friends and the community could participate in and help to raise more funds. Steve, being the runner, guided me toward the 5k/fun run. He along with Glenda Zellars, Michele Morpeth, Traci Bennett and Migdalia Carida all were instrumental in helping make the first race a huge success!”
The support of the Hackettstown community inspired Margaret and her mother Donna Walling to look for ways to “give back” to their kind neighbors and friends. Recently Donna Walling said that their plan was to have Smiles for Margaret take shape following her daughter’s recovery.
“We didn’t get a recovery,” Walling explained. “I was a stay at home mom, and I felt like I’d been fired. I thought I have to make something good out of this. That is what God asked me to do.”
While Cichlar was the one who originally started Smiles for Margaret by selling silicone bracelets and creating a special Facebook page for the family, she seamlessly passed the torch to Walling. Donna spent the next nine months after her daughter’s passing molding Smiles for Margaret into an official 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Each year the organization raises about $25,000 from various fundraisers. The money goes to “make things a little easier” for local families, Walling explained.
“For example, we gave to the Valerie Center to help pay someone’s electric bill,” she said. “We helped pay for someone’s Uber.” Walling said volunteers keep SFM running with low overhead.
“It’s like the loaves and the fishes,” she explained. “When money goes out, it comes back in through donations.”
This year, Walling is hoping to have about 300 people take part in the Huff and Puff. She said attendance depends on weather, but there are male and female categories for everyone – ages four to 80. The event brings in national and local sponsors, which makes The Huff and Puff the organization’s single largest fundraiser. Each year, $15,000 comes from the run/walk.
Cichlar and her family will be among the crowd helping the day go smoothly.
“Some of the runners, who come from as far away as Virginia, like the race because it’s well organized, it’s a flat course, and they love the sense of community and the cause,” she noted. For more information and to register for the day’s events, visit
www.smilesformargaret.com until Friday, Nov. 23 at 5 p.m. The day of the race, there will also be in person registration at the American Legion building on Willow Grove Street, Hackettstown.
Meanwhile, Smiles For Margaret will continue to raise funds all year long.
“The money goes to help as many local families as we can,” Walling emphasized.