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Shopping Cart Race Combines Creativity and Charity

Hundreds of Chicagoans gathered in Wicker Park for the 13th Annual CHIditarod Shopping Cart Race to support the Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) March 3.

The shopping cart race is part food drive, part competition and part bar crawl. Co-founder Devin Breen said he was inspired by the Idiotarod shopping cart race in New York and the creative energy he discovered at Burning Man art festival.

More than 90 five-person teams turned ordinary shopping carts into themed ensembles. Some carts were fashioned with posters while others were completely transformed into intricate displays.

Team themes included Jurassic Park, Pac Man, Scooby Doo and Shrek. Most people participating were in costume as Shrek, Pac Man ghosts and other characters.

Each team was required to bring at least 69 lbs of nonperishable food, which was donated to the GCFD, but several teams brought more. Breen said one team donated more than a ton of food. The event also raised more than $50,000 for the CHIditarod Foundation, which supports other food security nonprofits in Chicago.

Amy Squires Manager of the food drive department at GCFD said hunger is a persistent issue in Chicago.

“Our need in Chicago is great,” Squires said. “In the Cook County area, we provide food for 812,000 people per year. So one in six of your neighbors are hungry.”

Breen said many people don’t realize food donations and charity decrease after the holiday season, leaving some food bank shelves bare. He said the CHIditarod’s purpose goes beyond creativity.

“It’s not just for fun,” Breen said. “It’s actually because people are in need and people need help. This not only motivates people to be creative; it motivates people to give back and to do something above and beyond themselves.”

Teams gathered at Wolcott Avenue and Hubbard Street. The race started at 12:30 p.m., and each team was required to stop at five checkpoints along the route. Teams had to stay at the checkpoints for 25 minutes where some people drank in bars and others repaired their cart’s decorations.
Another creative aspect to the races was the “sabotage” component. Teams were allowed to set back others in innovative but harmless ways.

Pocket Earnhart said his team put games on its cart to distract others and set back their race times. Earnhart said he’s seen more malicious sabotages in the past.

“One year there was a guy who hacked the system somehow that locked all the electronic cartwheels … so they couldn’t move,” he said.

The winning team had a Mighty Ducks themed cart and came in shortly after 3 p.m. Nicholas Guerrero, who was part of the winning team, said he was proud because two years ago his team came in second place.

Guerrero, a Chicago Public School Teacher, said he liked the charitable aspect of the CHIditarod.

“I’m in education so I’m a huge advocate for giving back to the community and advocating for individuals that are sometimes incapable of advocating for themselves,” Guerrero said.

Although there could only be one champion, many participants were excited to be a part of the race and fundraising.

Max Collopy donned a Shrek costume as part of a team with a Shrek-themed cart. Collopy said he thinks it’s important for people to donate to food drives year-round.

“Hunger goes throughout the year,” Collopy said. “It’s something that’s not going to go away unless you get community involvement.”

A previous version of this article stated that the Greater Chicago Food Depository provides food for 18,000-12,000 people per year. It was corrected to 812,000.

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