Thiel fraternity's 100-mile charity walk passes through Alle-Kiski Valley on way to Children's Hospital
The brothers of Phi Theta Phi took over the Tarentum Bridge on Saturday afternoon.
Clad in winter hats, gloves and fluorescent yellow vests, and armed with signs, smiles and collection buckets, about 20 people marched across the bridge into New Kensington with a clear purpose — to raise money for the Free Care Fund at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“Children’s Hospital!” one of the participants called to several drivers passing by. “We’re the big kids who help the little kids that can’t help themselves!”
This is the 50th year the Thiel College fraternity has arranged a Walk-a-Thon from Thiel’s Greenville, Mercer County, campus to Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville.
All proceeds benefit the hospital’s Free Care Fund, which provides free and uncompensated care to children in the region regardless of their families’ insurance or ability to pay.
“It’s a 100-mile walk,” event chairman Vincent Mion said. “We end up walking the majority of it and carpooling into the other communities.
“It’s very tiring, but at the same time we get our power from the people who donate. They give such good feeling and good hope that it carries us through the walk like it’s nothing.”
Walkers left Thiel’s campus Friday morning.
They made their way through Mercer, Grove City, Slippery Rock and Butler, before spending the night at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeport.
They continued their journey through the Alle-Kiski Valley on Saturday morning, diligently trooping through Harrison, Brackenridge, New Kensington, Arnold, Springdale, Cheswick, Harmar, Oakmont and, ultimately, Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.
The high on Saturday was 26, but walkers didn’t let that halt their progress.
“We’re definitely fighting through it,” Mion said. “I’m hoping to pair up with someone and borrow their gloves for the rest of the day.”
The event is split into three main fundraising sections, which consist of pre-walk fundraising events, the 100-mile walk and intersection crews.
The 100-mile walk is attended by the event chairs, Phi Theta Phi alumni, and family and friends.
The intersection crews are made up of current Phi Theta Phi members. They’re stationed at certain places and collect money in the days leading up to, and the days of, the 100-mile walk.
“The intersection crews are who make us the most money; they’re the front line soldiers,” Mion said.
The fraternity raises an average of $20,000 to $25,000 for the hospital each year, but this year’s goal is $50,000, Mion said.
He said an alum offered to donate $25,000 if the fraternity could raise the first $25,000.
Mion said the event benefits the community as well as the hospital. People often tell he and his brothers about how their child or family was helped by the Free Care Fund.
“You really never know how much it helps until you hear stories like that ‘cause it hits so close to home,” Mion said. “It’s hard to explain in words. You just feel it.”
Phi Theta Phi alum Kevin Wiggins met his wife, Melissa, on one of the previous walks.
She knew about the walk through her best friend, who is married to another alum. Two years ago, she finally had some time to participate, and in doing so met Kevin. The rest is history.
“Two years ago: Best day of Kevin Wiggins’ life,” she joked. “This is very near and dear to him, and now our anniversary.”
A nurse at UPMC Shadyside, Melissa Wiggins said there are sick children who pass through her unit. She thinks raising money for the hospital is important.
“To give back a little to them when their bank accounts are being drained … it’s a fantastic cause,” she said.
Alum John Tortorea said going to the hospital and seeing the children is what makes him want to keep coming back to support them and their families.
“The tradition of this just brings us back every year,” he said.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.