Runner goes all out for charity trek to benefit children's clothing charity

Readers' note: This story was amended to reflect the fact that Jason Zacher covered his own expenses related to his 188-mile Epic Adventure run. All proceeds from his fundraising events, along with pledges, are going to benefit Operation School Bell.

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jason Zacher is participating in another relay race as a solo runner for charity, this time for Assistance League in Beaverton. He hopes to raise $7,500 dollars, which would clothe 100 children.Jason Zacher is a dedicated athlete and charity volunteer, but he doesn’t sugar-coat the physical reality of running alone from Beaverton to Eugene with na├»ve enthusiasm.

“The idea is to stay as healthy as I can ahead of time,” the Sherwood resident said recently. “Because the run’s gonna be a beatdown.”

A beatdown, that is, with a noble purpose.

For the third year in a row, Zacher is running a considerable distance to raise money and awareness for a charitable organization.

On Thursday, June 19, as part of the annual Epic Oregon Relay race, he’ll set out from the Big Al’s parking lot at 14950 S.W. Barrows Road in Beaverton as part of Jason’s Epic Adventure: a meandering, 188-mile route to Eugene to assist Operation School Bell. The philanthropic program, which provides Hillsboro and Beaverton school district students from kindergarten through sixth grade with new clothes, is affiliated with the Beaverton-based Assistance League of Greater Portland.

Unlike the other 12-member teams in the relay of about 70 runners, Zacher will be pounding the pavement mostly on his own, exclusively to assist Operation School Bell.

“I was very touched when they gave me a tour and I saw what they did in providing brand new clothing for children in need,” he said of the organization. “Every penny I raise goes directly to the charity.”

Zacher, who is covering all his own expenses for the adventure, will hold his third hamburger-based barbecue fundraiser on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at his workplace of Bales Thriftway, 12675 N.W. Cornell Road. For $5, customers get a fresh-grilled burger, potato salad donated by Reser’s Fine Foods, chips and a drink.

Despite rainfall during a similar event in mid March, Zacher, with reinforcements from the Assistance League and Operation School Bell, raised $805 in four hours. Balancing training and planning fundraisers, he admitted, makes getting ready for the run more stressful than the two-day trek itself.

“This has been a huge undertaking,” he said. “The training and planning and fundraising is immense.”

With various businesses donating to Operation School Bell in exchange for event sponsorships and banners on his run support van, donations also come from individuals who read or hear about the run and make individual contributions.

As his date of departure draws closer, Zacher, 43, is training up to five days a week, in spurts of 5 to 8 miles and longer stretches between 17 to 23 miles. At this point, he’s not as concerned about achieving a certain time as he is about raising $7,500. The amount would provide 100 eligible children in Beaverton and Hillsboro with new clothing through Operation School Bell.

“This is the last fundraising run I am ever going to do,” he said. “So I am pulling out all the stops to make it really special and to raise the most money I can.”

If all goes well, Zacher expects to reach the Epic Oregon Relay finish line by 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, June 21, about 48 hours after his feet leave Big Al’s for the open road.

“I really want to get to the finish line in Eugene while the Epic Relay still has the finish line up,” he said, explaining that other relay runners — paid to be part of a team — tend to finish a bit before him.

Last year, Zacher’s ultimate destination was Lincoln City, which, at 100 miles, is a virtual hop, skip and jump compared to his upcoming Eugene trek. He raised close to $5,000 to benefit the Salvation Army Beaverton Family Veterans Center on Farmington Road, and Angels Anonymous, a Lincoln City-based group that helps needy families pay expenses such as utility bills.

Operation School Bell Director Linda Springer didn’t miss a beat when Zacher approached her and Judy Lancaster, the program’s clothing buyer, with his uniquely physical charitable idea.

“I said, ‘Fantastic!’ Bless his big heart,” she said. “This is the first time this has ever happened for us. It’s such good publicity for us. We’re probably one of the best-kept secrets around here.”

Launched in 1998, Operation School Bell operates out of the Assistance League of Portland’s thrift store outlet at 4000 S.W. 117h Ave., just north of Canyon Road.

The league will celebrate its 50th anniversary of charitable service in June.

Lancaster, a Tigard resident, travels to showcases to find below-market price children’s clothing to distribute to eligible children in the Beaverton and Hillsboro areas.

“Each child gets a winter jacket, two pairs of jeans, two tops, a pack of underwear, six pairs of socks and a shoe card that allows $22 at Payless,” she said. “We’re focusing on 1,000 kids this year.”

While the time and effort to accomplish them convinced him not to do a fourth charity run next year, Zacher admitted the part where he pounds the pavement to Eugene for two days will come as a relative relief.

“It gets to the point where running is the easy part,” he said.