Every participant who registers for the Barnyard Dash Virtual 5K will ultimately provide a free meal to a local worker on the frontline of defense against COVID-19.

That’s the headline. Here’s the backstory.

In the spirit of offering a healthy outlet for residents to enjoy during the “new normal,” staff at Blackberry Farm began brainstorming concepts once the Fox Valley Park District was forced to cancel the Barnyard Dash 5K and Pig Pen 1-miler, traditionally held in April.

“We weren’t able to offer our traditional 5K, so we wanted to come up with a way to encourage participants to be active, and at the same time give back to our community,” said Becky Harling, the rentals and events supervisor at Blackberry.

Harling called Ryan Reuland, owner and general manager of Reuland Food Service in Aurora, who had recently “associated myself” with Feeding the Frontline, an initiative – not an organization – that was born at a pizza place in Boston.

Since March 27, Reuland has been accepting community donations to provide economy boxed lunches – a deli sandwich, chips and chocolate chip cookie – for healthcare workers and first responders. As donations pour in, the Reuland team prepares lunches and delivers them to the two Aurora hospitals and Aurora police and fire officials – free of charge.

“I liked the concept of boxed lunches for what I initially saw as a safer option, opposed to people delivering pans of temperature-controlled food that everybody’s touching,” Reuland said. “The feedback I’m getting from the hospitals is the nurses and techs just don’t have time, but they have refrigeration, so they can eat maybe a couple hours after we deliver. The boxed lunches provide a little flexibility in making something worthwhile.”

In the first week, Reuland received enough donations to deliver 1,500 lunches, with 1,400 already scheduled for Week 2.

In the Barnyard Dash Virtual 5K, participants pay $13 and complete a 5K (3.11 miles) – at their own pace, on their own time – encouraged to do so on their personal treadmill or in their immediate neighborhood. Each racer will receive a bib number, which they can use to submit their times online between April 20-26, and a medal will be mailed to all participants.

But, most importantly, each registration fee will cover a free meal, prepared and delivered by Reuland, for a local healthcare worker or first responder – with a thank-you sticker attached to every box.

“We want our community to stay healthy,” said Jim Pilmer, the FVPD’s executive director. “And we want to support our healthcare workers who are saving lives.”

For more information or to register for the Barnyard 5K Virtual Dash, visit foxvalleyparkdistrict.org/event/barnyard-dash-virtual-5k.