COPLEY TWP: Aaron Barker looked less comfortable in a suit than David Roper did in a short, pink dress.
The young men from the Akron area were among 180 pedestrians in the Trash the Dress 5K, a Saturday fundraiser that encouraged participants to wear wedding and formal apparel while walking or running to raise money for ACCESS, an Akron shelter for homeless women and children.
Before the race started at Copley High School, Barker leaned against a fence, stretching his legs as far as he could in a thrift-store suit.
Next to Barker, Roper looked loose and ready in his cotton dress, cut well above the knees.
“They only gave you two options,” Roper, a Copley resident, said of his fashion choice.
“A tux is a little bit too warm to run in. This guy’s going to be sweating,” he said, nodding to Barker, who already had beads of sweat forming on his brow as the picture-perfect Saturday morning began to heat up.
The men, avid race enthusiasts inspired by the cause, were joined by other ACCESS supporters and the shelter’s staff and board members.
Each participant contributed about $25. Sponsors — including Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LLP, the OMNOVA Solutions Foundation and Incept — helped push the fundraiser over the $10,000 mark.
Denaye Black, an ACCESS employee, leveraged a recent birthday wish to promote the event.
“Instead of gifts, this was my gift, just giving back,” she said, surrounded by friends, who helped Black into her second-hand wedding dress, a $4 purchase at the Village Discount Outlet in Cuyahoga Falls.
Black’s friends visited the ACCESS website after hearing about the event. There, testimonials of single women overcoming drug addiction, escaping abusive relationships and raising children struck a chord.
“Look, I’m crying now,” Aundrey Somerville told the group of women.
The shelter has expanded since being founded in 1983. It now provides 12 bedrooms in a transitional housing program. About 45 residents, many children, temporarily live there.
About 200 other homeless women and children in Summit County remain on a waiting list, said Lynn Budnick, executive director for the nonprofit.
Last year, the program served 447 people, about half children, and regretfully turned away 1,000 others.
Events like the 5K, in its fourth year, raise money to provide meals, safety and shelter, as well as access to community support services.
More information can be found at access-shelter.org, where a $25 donation promises to feed women and children, $100 provides a homeless student with 50 days of school transportation and $500 affords medical care for 10 children.
Before and after the event, participants doused themselves, and each other, in colored chalk and silly string. In previous years, the race has featured other feminine themes, like a sprint in stiletto heels.
“What we wanted was a unique way to get people together,” Budnick said of the dress trashing, a modern wedding trend.
Wedding dresses weren’t the only garbs worn.
“That sucked in a prom dress,” Paula Ruch of Copley Township said with exhaustion and jubilation as she crossed the finish line in a puffy, frilly, admittedly out-of-style 1983 dress.
Ruch, 49, finished in 25 minutes and some change, proudly wearing her dress for the first time in 30 years. “It’s such a great cause.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.