Ugly Sweater Run Across North America For Children’s Wish and Toys For Tots

By Nick Krewen 11/11/13 |

Getting in the spirit at the Denver Ugly Sweater Run in 2012. — photo credit: Evan Semon.
Remember that hideously ugly sweater that your Aunt sent you last Christmas that’s currently contaminating your chest-of-drawers? Well, you can exhume it out of mothballs and help The Children’s Wish Foundation by proudly wearing it during the Canadian debut of the Ugly Sweater Run. The event is already taking place in 30 cities across the U.S. to help raise awareness for Toys For Tots. You don't have to actually run — you can walk, skip, push strollers, maybe even ride a sleigh.

A moustache component ties in with Movember, November’s heavily promoted global charity which encourages men to grow moustaches for 30 days to raise awareness and funds for men’s health issues. And after the Ugly Sweater Run, there are awards for best real mustache, best fake mustache, best beard, worst sweater and best sweater.

For starters in Canada, the two 5K runs will take place Nov. 16 at Downsview Park in Toronto and Nov. 23 at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park in Vancouver, BC. All you need to participate is an ugly sweater and pay the entry fee, which includes a fake tattoo moustache (if you don’t have a real one), unlimited hot chocolate, and, after the run, alcoholic beverages for those of age.

In Toronto, the fee is $44; in Vancouver, it’s $40 and $37 each for a team of four. Kids under 8 can participate for free. The entire fee from each Vancouver entry and  $5 from each entry fee in the Toronto race will be donated to The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, a national non-profit organization dedicated to fulfilling a favourite wish for children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. 

The Children’s Wish Foundation never turns down a children’s wish and to date has granted 20,000 wishes since its inception in 1984, approximately three a day, according to its web site, 1000 a year.

“A lot of people own ugly sweaters, and this is the one event where they’re allowed to wear them in public,” Leah Smith, series director of Louisville, Colorado-based race organizer and event management specialists Human Movement Management tells Samaritanmag. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Human Movement Management launched the first 3.1 mile Ugly Sweater Run in Denver, Colorado, back in 2011, and was so impressed by the event’s turnout and response that they expanded it to seven U.S. cities in 2012, and 30 this time around. Organizers of the for-profit run have partnered with U.S. charity Toy For Tots and asks entrants to bring new, unwrapped toys for donation. Toys For Tots collects toys during October, November and December each year and distributes them as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children.

“The amount of exposure it got and the amount of people who participated was mind-blowing,” Smith admits. “So now we’ve started a whole national series.”

However, the event came full circle when Human Movement Management aligned with Jordan Birch, one of the Vancouver-based co-founders of the Ugly Christmas Sweater phenomenon, and his Now That’s Ugly Society, to add the two Canadian dates that will benefit The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada. (A separate Ugly Sweater run scheduled for Windsor on Dec. 29 in support of Windsor Regional Hospital’s Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit is unrelated.)

Birch, a life coach, is no stranger to ugly Christmas sweaters: he and fellow high school pals Chris Boyd and Scott Lindsay unwittingly started a North American trend while in university when they hosted the first known event.

(L to R) Chris Boyd and Jordan Birch are the proud co-founders of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party, which has been expanded to include National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day and the Ugly Sweater Run in Canada — photo credit: Joanna Boyd.
“We got matching sweaters, held it in Scott’s living room and it was a huge hit,” Birch tells Samaritanmag. “We had a jovial old time and our friends were asking about it for the next year, so we coined the term Ugly Christmas Sweater Party and it became a festive tradition amongst our group of friends and family. Three years down the road, we grew out of the confined space and moved it to a local bar, then a pub and eventually to the Commodore Ballroom in downtown Vancouver.”

In fact, the Commodore bash has proven to be so popular that Birch and his pals have enjoyed seven straight sell-outs of the 1000-person capacity venue, raising over $75,000 through the years for private donations for families stricken by cancer, he says.

But it was only last year, after a close friend contracted cancer, that they turned their attention to The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada.

“We granted a wish for her and her family to go to Disneyland and she passed away earlier this year,” says Birch. “We talked to her husband at her funeral and he told us how much of a meaningful experience that trip was, so we needed to replicate that.”

An average children’s wish costs $10,000 to realize, according to the Children’s Wish Foundation, and Birch says his That’s Ugly Society is hoping to raise $50,000 for the charity this year.

He says the 5K Ugly Sweater Run — the Vancouver portion of which he has licensed from Human Movement Management — is just one component of what he calls “a three-tiered approach” to his fund-raising that includes the Annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party held at the Commodore and a National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, which he is working on establishing from coast to coast.

“I’d say the cornerstone is our Annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party and our next enterprise is to establish National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day to be held the third Friday in December,” he declares. “It’s the same concept as another popular Vancouver initiative, Jeans Day: Wear jeans for a day, and buy a button for $5 with the money going to the charity you’re aligned with.

“In our case, everyone’s got an ugly sweater. If they don’t, they find one, make one or buy it online. Our button distribution site at NowThat’ allows people to order a button for $5 or a box of them to distribute. And we’ve reached an agreement where the staff of all our partners wear ugly Christmas sweaters throughout the month of December.”

So far, Birch has convinced Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson to proclaim Dec. 20 as Ugly Christmas Sweater Day and also recruited three more mayors in the Greater Vancouver Area to follow his lead: Mike Clay of Port Moody, Greg Moore of Port Coquitlam and Richard Stewart, City Of Coquitlam.

“This is something we’d like to take across the country,” says Birch.

 In the meantime, the most immediate fundraiser is the 5K Ugly Sweater Run. Human Movement Management’s Smith says about 1000 people have signed up in Toronto, and with attendance in the States-held events drawing an average of 3500 people per race she’s hopeful that Canada will see a similar expansion in 2014.

“I’d say Toronto and Vancouver are test runs,” Smith offers. “We’re hoping to add six or seven more Canadian cities next year.”

As for the $44 race entry fee, Smith says the majority of the money goes towards “the cost and operations of the event, obtaining permits and other incidentals.”

However, it also covers the two beers given to participants once they cross the finish line and the cups of hot chocolate.

Although Smith says that Human Movement Managemnt does not make monetary donations to Toys For Tots, her company does “make monetary contributions for local organizations, such as club sport teams, homeless shelters, Girl Scouts, etc"

Smith says that public interest in 5K runs is “incredible.”

“We produce about 200 events a year, from mud runs to optical runs, and people really want to be active and exercise,” Smith explains.  “The whole aspect of the race not being timed is great because there’s no pressure to finish in a hurry. It’s more of a way to get people out and get moving instead of hanging at someone’s house. We’re trying to promote healthy lifestyles.”

Participants are encouraged to run, walk, push their strollers and bring their dogs to the Ugly Sweater Run. And in 2012, Human Movement Management president Jeff Suffolk added a moustache component to the proceedings.

 “Jeff associated ugly moustaches with sweaters for some reason, just because he thought it was funny,” says Smith. “So last year we had felt moustaches. This year, we’ve having tattooed moustaches. It’s another silly way of trying something new, plus it also plays into Movember, because we feel that the awareness surrounding men’s health is important.”

People are also encouraged, of course, to wear grotesque pullovers.

What constitutes an ugly sweater?

“Well, I think it’s personal taste,” replies Birch. “We always promote that we want people to define ugly for themselves. Certainly some of the key elements in the sweater would be the type of fabric, whether it’s original knit or pre-manufactured, whether it’s an original piece or something that’s been recently produced, the age of it, the trinkets and the accessories to the sweater — what things make it stand out — also how it feels. Is it itchy? Is it hot? Is it scratchy? Is it too small? Is it too big? When you combine those elements you get this recipe for ugly, which kind of looks good, in a way. 

“For me, it’s my Aunt Mary’s sweater that she handed down to me this past year, with reindeer on it, and tassels and puffy little red balls, that’s the catalyst.”

Ugly Sweater Run: List of Cities, Locations, Times

NOV. 16

  - Marlin County Fair, San Rafael (San Francisco), California, 11 a.m.

  - Red River Valley Fair, Fargo, North Dakota, 11 a.m.

  - Downsview Park, Toronto, Ontario, 11 a.m.

  - Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, 11 a.m.

  - Griffith Park, Beaverton (Portland) Oregon, 10 a.m.

NOV. 23

  - Tempe Beach Park, Tempe, Arizona, 10 a.m.

  - Town Centre Park, Coquitlam (Vancouver), British Columbia, 2  p.m.

  -  Principal Park, Des Moines, Iowa, 11 a.m.

  - McKee Farms Park, Fitchburg (Madison), Wisconsin, 11 a.m.

NOV. 24

   - White River State Park, Indianapolis, Indiana, 11 a.m.

   - Magnuson Park, Seattle, Washington, 11 a.m.

NOV. 30

   - Harriet Island, St. Paul, Minnesota, 11 a.m.

   - NTC Park, San Diego, California, 11 a.m.

   - Fair Park, Dallas, Texas, 8 a.m.

   - East End Grille, Somerville (Boston), Massachusetts, 11 a.m.

DEC. 01

   - Calder Plaza, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 11 a.m.

DEC. 07

   - Washington Square, Kansas City, Missouri, 11 a.m.

   - William Land Park, Sacramento, California, 11 a.m.

   - Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 8 a.m.

   - Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee, 11 a.m.

DEC. 08

   -  Bushnell Park, Hartford, Connecticut, 11 a.m.

DEC. 14

   -  Downtown Las Vegas, 601 Fremont St., Las Vegas, Nevada, 11 a.m.

   -  Raceway Park, Englishtown, New Jersey, 11 a.m.

   -  Piedmont Park, Atlanta, Georgia, 11 a.m.

   -  Watson Park, Lawrence, Kansas, 10 a.m.

DEC. 15

    - Century Link Center, Omaha, Nebraska, 11 a.m.

DEC. 21

    -  Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri, 11 a.m.

    -  L.A. Historic Park, Los Angeles, California, 11 a.m.

    -  Downtown Denver 20th & Market St., Denver, Colorado, 11 a.m.

     - Shelby Farms Park, Memphis, Tennessee, 11 a.m.

     - National Harbor, National Harbor (Washington), Maryland, 9 a.m.

DEC. 29

    - Festival Plaza, Windsor, Ontario, 9 a.m. (unaffiliated with the other listings)

JAN. 04, 2014

  -    Waikiki Shell, Honolulu, Hawaii, 9 a.m.


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