Zombie Walk 2013 Spurs Dawn of the Charitable Dead Leading Up To Halloween

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A decade ago, six Torontonians roamed the streets dressed as zombies, complete with bloody makeup, sunken eyes and tattered clothing. It was the world’s first public Zombie Walk. Vancouver, San Francisco, New York and Ottawa soon had their own gatherings of the wandering undead. Today, the movement has spread to countries as far as Brazil and Australia and takes place on a designated day as Halloween approaches.

From embracing cult hits like Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later to massive blockbusters (World War Z) and television series (The Walking Dead), it seems people cannot get enough of zombie-fueled entertainment. While Zombie Walks continue to spread to smaller towns, more organizers are starting to gear these events to fundraise for food banks or promote other causes from contaminated water off the coast of British Columbia to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s CPR Makes You Undead campaign.

“It’s a good tool to help draw people’s attention and bring them in,” Ray Behnke, organizer of the Zombie Obstacle Challenge in Regina, Sask., tells Samaritanmag. “I think more fundraisers should be focused on what’s trending now in order to help raise funds and food for different special-interest groups.” The military-style obstacle course —where participants run away from zombies — was Sept. 28. and drew 400 participants and 150 volunteers in support of the Regina Food Bank. Some of the money donated at the event will also be given to the Regina Queen City Kinsmen, which is a community organization that gives back to places like Cystic Fibrosis Canada and the Souls Harbour Rescue Mission. 

Food drives are the most common pair up. Cinncianti's Zombie Walk that took place Sept. 28 was for Freestore Foodbank; Detroit’s Walk Against Hunger on Oct. 13 will benefit Gleaners Food Bank and Kingston, Ont.’s Zombie Walk asks participants to donate non-perishables for the Kingston Youth Shelter.  They simply bring the items to the gathering point where there are bins or boxes to drop them in.

“Every year that we’ve done the Zombie Walk, we have made it a charity food drive,” says Hamilton Zombie Walk organizer Aaron Allen tells Samaritanmag. “When you see the need for food donations, especially in the later part of the year banks reach that critical level where they’re not getting the donations they need, especially leading up to Christmas time.”

Although attempting to demonstrate that Zombies have humanity seems odd, the fictional monsters have always been a symbol of lower-class struggle. The zombie classics of film director George A. Romero, which include 1968’s Night of the Living Dead and the original Dawn of the Dead, featured the creatures as metaphors for underrepresented social groups and a consumer-driven lifestyle.

As some Zombie Walks focus on bringing food for the hungry, they are also reminders of the poverty that continues to exist. “Zombies are sort of the blue-collar under-class of monsters. They’re lacking and wanting something,” says Allen, who promoted the food drive with the slogan “Take A Bite Out of Hunger.”

Allen is also an acting director of Horror in the Hammer that adds fundraising to some of its special events. “We have done blood drives for Hamilton Blood Services and the Red Cross,” Allen says. “At different points in the year, we have people bring in food donations to horror movie screenings that we’re doing.

“There’s already a stigma and a negative perception of fans of horror. We thought it was important to show that we are not just a bunch of miscreants trying to cause trouble. We are actually a valuable part of the community. The things we like and do might seem strange to other people, but our goals are the same: to have fun and give back a little bit.”

Although the Toronto Zombie Walk, the biggest in Canada, is not a direct fundraiser, organizers will be raising awareness for the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s CPR Makes You Undead, a cool instructional video. Every year, 7,000 cardiac arrests occur in Ontario, according to the Foundation, with a current survival rate of about five percent.

“Any big event you have needs to be tied into a charity in order for you to have participants,” says Stefania Zanini, who is on the board of directors for the Toronto Zombie Walk. This year, she expects that more than 10,000 Torontonians will swarm Nathan Phillips Square on Oct. 26. The Walk has grown to such a stature in the city that zombies will – for the first time in the event’s history – march, lurch and stagger down Yonge St. in a Halloween parade the city will hold that afternoon.

“If you can make your participants have more fun and feel even better while giving to a cause, it’s win-win,” Zanini says. “People want to be giving, kind, moral and generous people. And if you can do that while being a zombie, heck, why not?”

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.