Sisters' Unique Idea Helps Squirrel Hill Community

Sisters quickly organize a "virtual" 5K run in the aftermath of the Squirrel Hill shooting, giving people all over the world a chance to support the community wherever they are.

When Caroline Shannon-Karasick and her sister Amanda Shannon Verrengia heard about the mass shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, their reaction was the same as most everyone: this tragedy couldn't possibly have happened in our community.

Their next reaction was immediate. What can we do to help?

From that gut need to "do something" came a unique idea: a "virtual" 5K benefit run. The sisters have organized benefit runs before, and knew a "virtual" event would be easy to organize. It would also give thousands of others worldwide an outlet to offer their support to Squirrel Hill and Pittsburgh, and channel their energy in a tangible way. The decided the run would benefit Squirrel Hill's Jewish Community Center , an organization on the front lines of comforting those still suffering from the events of October 29.

The "virtual" nature of the event allowed people to sign up to run their 3.1 miles wherever they were. People ran in Pittsburgh of course.

People also ran in cities all over the country and the world, from Vegas and New Jersey (that's Marc Aaron Meltzer and friend finishing their run in Teaneck below) to as far away as Paraguay, New Zealand, and Singapore.

Nearly 2000 people participated. "It exceeded our expectations," Caroline said of her and Amanda's reaction. "I don't think either of us have fully grasped the magnitude of how many people participated in this. We're just blown away."

Aron Borok in Portland Oregon chose to run 11 miles, one mile for each victim of the Tree of Life shooting. Borok left a stone with each victim's name written in chalk (including Richard Gottfried) at each mile-marker, honoring the Jewish custom of leaving small stones on the graves of those who have passed as a symbol of their life and memory.

People ran alone and in groups, displaying a special flier created for the event "I completed the virtual 5K for the Pittsburgh JCC" to show their solidarity with other participants.

Some ran the 3.1 miles on treadmills at the gym or in their homes.

Others had already planned to run in other marathons or road races (like the women below at the Rock N Roll Marathon in Las Vegas Saturday) and dedicated their runs or a portion of their runs to the JCC Virtual 5K.

Carolina and Amanda chose the Jewish Community Center to benefit from the 5K because of its place at the center of the community's healing, but also because of their personal connection. Caroline's 3-year old daughter Claire and Amanda's 2 1/2 year old son Oscar have taken music classes and now take swimming lessons at the JCC. "Our initial idea was Tree of Life, but then we started to think about it," explained Caroline. "What resonated to me was knowing what the JCC was doing, working as a crisis center for victims, building a sense of community for Squirrel Hill, and knowing what they will have to face from here on out."

The sisters had raised more than $35,000 by the Monday after the run. They hope to raise $40,000 by Friday, when they plan to present a check to the JCC. Donations are still being accepted and t-shirts are still available for purchase with all of the proceeds going to the JCC.

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