By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN – It was a sunny 63 degrees at 7:30 AM on the day of the Moosic City DairyPure Dash on April 15. For the 17th time in as many years, about 1600 runners runners, who had each ponied up $35, readied at the starting line for the 5k race. At 8 AM, the long distance runners queued up for the 10km and 15km races.

Jeannette Mathieu and Cormac Carolan won the 5km; Anna Stevenson and Scott Wietecha won the 10K; Bonita Dearbone and Matt Davis won the 15km.

The other winners were the hundreds of poor kids in Davidson County public schools who get help from a nonprofit called Pencil. Pencil is the 2017 recipient of the Moosic City Dash proceeds. It will be around $100,000.

That’s a lot of pencils…and Kleenex and copy paper and hand sanitizer.

Pencil’s 20 staff members work in the old Cohn School building in Sylvan Park and they coordinate more than 800 Nashville businesses which provide hundreds of volunteers who tutor Metro kids, mostly in reading but also in math and financial literacy.

Previous recipients include Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, Gilda’s Club, Alive Hospice, and last year, High Hopes, a specialty preschool and pediatric therapy

“We will recruit and match partners with any school and we have partners with virtually every school in the district,” said Angie Adams, Pencil’s CEO.

“We’ve been doing it every year for a different nonprofit,” said the Dash’s director, Frank Schmidt.  The 15km race, called “The Smitty”, is named after Schmidt, a marathoner from Cleveland who moved to Nashville in 1995. He has been organizing the Moosic City Dash with about a dozen others since 2000.

In the first half-mile, as hundreds of people streamed by Schmidt, runners greeted him or he hailed them. Some were families, who have run the Dash for years with their kids Schmidt said.

There was bottled water, milk, Purity ice cream, and mac and cheese for the runners after the race. Each runner got a pendant for finishing and a long-sleeved running shirt. Race winners got a year’s supply of Purity ice cream.

“I would never have dreamed it would take off like this. Everybody brings the whole family,” said Cathy Wunder.

Wunder’s late husband, Glenn Wunder, died from pancreatic cancer and the annual race began in 2000 to honor his memory. Wunder’s three children have been involved since then. They organize the Kids Zone at the annual event. Wunder said she wanted to do something that was more of a family event because her late husband was such a people person. The event has grown beyond itself. People have proposed on Athens Way during the race Wunder said.

“I am grateful to Purity Dairy and the original folks who had this inspiration and drive. We have become like a family choosing those charities that go unrecognized,” Wunder said.

“My grandfather started Purity back in 1926 and he taught my dad and uncle and the third generation how much the Lord and community have blessed us,” said Mark Ezell, who runs Purity Dairy on Murfreesboro Rd.

“It’s a joyful responsibility to give back to the community,” he said,

Ezell recalled that just 350-400 people ran in the first race in 2000 and the event raised $5,000 for the American Cancer Society. They decided to hold another race in 2001 for the Special Olympics. They raised $10,000. The race and the donations have been growing ever since.

“What makes our race different is that every single penny we raise goes to the charity,” Ezell said.

“All these companies have joined us to pay for security, shirts, medals; no one gets paid anything in this race. In the last few years we’ve really hit our stride raising $50. $60, and over $100,000 all because these two guys came to us and said they wanted to honor their friend.”

Pencil runs six family resource centers and a teacher supply store. Adams said these school-based family resource sites meet students and families basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. They are located at Tusculum Elementary, Madison Middle, Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center, Antioch HS, Glencliff HS, and Maplewood HS.

The centers support hundreds of Nashville families with basic needs.

“So many children rely on free breakfast and lunch that if school is closed, families are desperate to feed their children so families can come to our food pantries on snow days to get food boxes,” Adams said.

Metro Schools serve an average of 92,000 meals a day, spending $18.2 million to feed children annually. All those food dollars are federal.

Nashville churches collect coats and give them to Pencil so children can have warm coats in Winter.

“Our coordinators will create a clothing closet where students can quietly slip in, pick out a coat, and slip out,” she said.