By Melanie Nesteruk         

For twenty-four years, the Feaster Five has been an Andover tradition, with thousands of walkers and runners winding their way through the center of town on Thanksgiving morning, making it the fifth largest road race in New England.  Hundreds of families took to the streets, sporting costumes and bright orange, to participate in a race that began with only 300 runners.

Participants in the 2011 Feaster Five. Photo by Melanie Nesteruk.

Bill Pennington, one of the original founders of the Feaster Five, remembers why he brought the tradition to Andover. “I wanted to make sure it was about the charity and the runners,” says Pennington.  Organized almost entirely by a committed staff of volunteers, the first years of the Feaster Five promoted a generous and giving spirit.  Profits from the race went to Lazarus House and Saint Anne Home to help the less fortunate during the holiday.

A few years later, the race further distinguished itself by celebrating the slowest runners as well as the fastest, by giving out apple pies to the last 1,000 runners. The first place finishers still got the glory, but now the “back of the pack” runners had an incentive to participate as well. The Feaster Five become a race that was supportive of all types of runners and their families.

The Feaster Five continued to experiment with different ideas to attract more and more participants.  One year, before everyone had a cell phone, they offered universal cell phone service, allowing the runners who had finished the race to call their families and wish them a happy Thanksgiving. Another year, they worked with a blood drive to help a child with leukemia. “I always wanted to add something new and different,” says Pennington. Even as the race began to grow, the emphasis remained on charity and family.

Today, the race is as familiar to Thanksgiving as the turkey and stuffing.  Families come together to walk, jog or run through the streets of Andover.  The event has attracted a diverse crowd of runners from the elite to the casual jogger. Thanks to Bill Pennington and a dedicated team of volunteers, the race has grown into one of the largest and most accepting races in New England.

So what’s next for Bill Pennington?  Ever moving and leaving the Feaster Five in capable hands, Pennington has turned his interest towards another deserving cause. On April 1, 2012, in Andover, another 5K race will begin, this time to benefit disabled soldiers returning home from the war.  Homes for our Troops is a non-profit organization; their goal is to raise enough money to buy homes for the many brave soldiers that were wounded while defending our country.  For more information or to register, go to www.RunForTheTroops5K.com.  Only open to the first 1500 entries, it’s a great way to help out a good cause and get in shape for a spring sport.