Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What We Leave Behind

It’s been almost a month since I held my sneakers aloft during the Chicago 3Day closing ceremony. During those weeks, I have spent 22 hours driving home and countless more hours than that getting caught up with laundry and at my job. We’ve been fundraising and training for The3Day in DC in October. My daughter and my husband have headed back to school. But in amongst all that, I just keep thinking about everything we left behind in Chicago. By “WE”, I mean the walkers and crew of the Chicago 3Day for the Cure.

We left behind a message of hope and dozens of yards of pink crepe paper and ribbons. We left behind 4.3 million dollars raised to make a difference in the fight to find a cure for breast cancer. We left behind smiling young people cheering along 60 miles of sidewalks. We left behind funding for underprivileged women in a city that really needed us. We left behind incredible memories and a powerful message that kindness really can make a difference in the world.

But in the weeks since the Chicago 3Day, I have been reflecting with sadness on something else we left behind. This was my 17th 3Day event, and every time, I am startled anew by what is left behind on Sunday morning. Piles of tarps and sleeping bags and air mattresses get left behind. Mountains of things that the people of the cities we have walked through could definitely use. Sometimes I find it painful to walk out of camp on that final morning because I have seen sneakers left abandoned – sneakers that I realize don’t have enough life in them for a 3Day walker, but that definitely have enough life for the man on the corner begging for spare change to buy some food. Every time that I pack up my stuff on that last day, I am startled by the numbers of tarps left behind by walkers and crew too tired or too dazed to squeeze them into their bags. There are enough tarps left behind in a 3Day camp to build a small tent-city for a homeless community. There are enough tarps and sleeping bags to cover all the children left homeless by last year’s earthquake in Haiti. Enough sleeping bags for all the low-income girl scouts in any city I have ever walked in. The possibilities seem endless. What so many people treat as trash can really be someone else’s live-saving treasure.

Each time that we walk or crew, Matt and I leave extra space in our luggage. On Day3, we load up with tarps that are piling up by the trashcans and we bring them home with us. We donate them to shelters in our home area. After the Chicago 3Day this year, we shipped 32 tarps in perfect condition to Haiti with a friend who was traveling there. Maybe we didn’t change the world, but at least those 32 tarps went to a good cause rather than to a landfill. In Boston this year, a local Eagle Scout made announcements at dinner about collecting leftover supplies on Day3. He made all the arrangements to pick up and then donate the goods to shelters in the area.

There are so many ways to make a difference. I’m hoping that by speaking up today, I can encourage those walkers and crew who are getting ready for the events in the coming three months to give serious thought to what is being left behind.
Here are some ways that you can make a difference:
1. Do not leave any of your own stuff behind;
2. Make plans to take a few extra items with you and donate them to a worthy cause in your own backyard (or just keep them and use them yourself, at least they won’t go to a landfill!);
3. Make plans with a local shelter for them to come to Camp on closing morning to pick up leftovers;
4. Inspire a local scout or community service organization to contact The3Day and make a big plan to make a big difference;
5. Get creative and think of some way to take all those worthwhile items and pay it forward.

It is true that we – the walkers and crew of The3Day – are definitely making a difference in the fight against breast cancer. But that doesn’t have to mean that we forget to make a difference in other fights in our world.


  1. What a great thing you did with those tarps! Good for you for both taking action and for encouraging others to do the same.

    ~ Kristen

  2. Fantastic! In the Twin Cities we actually had a Crew Captain who was the green coordinator. She spent all morning of Day 3 folding and piling tarps and air mattresses and she coordinated all of the donations (tarps, mattresses, shoes) to local shelters.

    Hopefully this is an initiative that can move to every city to be an actual crew position instead of just falling to walkers and crew who have room in their hearts (and bags!) to do it themselves.

  3. Greening of the 3 day may become standard practice in the near future. There was a green team in Chicago this year. The composted food and recycled everything that could possibly be recycled. There was also an opportunity for walkers to donate used sneakers. This is a good start. I'm always puzzled by how folks manage to carry items in but can't carry them back out.

  4. Thank you for this post and for all you do. Since is my first walk, I hadn't thought of this aspect. The only thing I plan on leaving at the Tampa walk are a few tears.

  5. Wow! These are some great ideas! And it seems so easy. I haven't walked before so I wasn't aware that so much gets left behind. I love the idea of a green team. I'm totally down for sorting through trash to pull out recycle, composting, and collecting unwanted items available for donation. Hmmm...let me think. (After all, that is the point, right?)

  6. I agree 100%! I was so saddened by the amount of trash and things that walkers left behind for the crew to clean up... things that were perfectly good, but that they were just too lazy to pack back up and take with them. I think you have a great idea here, and I will most definitely spread the word tomorrow to walkers I come in contact with at the EXPO.