Writer / Kara Reibel At 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning before helping themselves to their Thanksgiving meal, 18,000 Hoosiers and their families will serve others first by participating in the 12th annual Drumstick Dash. This race, benefiting Wheeler Mission, has grown into one of the top 10 events in the U.S. for Thanksgiving Day running events. “Thanksgiving is the number one day of the year for races, with July 4th being the second most popular,” said Wheeler Mission Marketing Director Brian Crispin. The number of participants has increased from 1,300 for the inaugural race to 18,000 runners and walkers last year. When Chief Development Officer Steve Kerr proposed the idea over 12 years ago to hold a race on Thanksgiving Day, he had no idea it would grow to be so popular. The Drumstick Dash is the second largest in the state, second only to the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. The most important part of the Drumstick Dash is raising awareness of the services and support that Wheeler Mission provides. They have been serving the homeless in Indianapolis for 121 years. Current numbers indicate there are approximately 1,900 homeless. With zero government support, 100 percent of their funding is from community support – 80 percent is from individuals and the remaining 20 percent comes from grants, corporate gifts and fundraising events such as the Drumstick Dash. With feeding on average 1,000 homeless men, women and children every day at the cost of $2.25 a meal, the seasonal spike is approaching. The Drumstick Dash is well-timed as the need during the winter months increases dramatically. Crispin himself is a product of success of Wheeler Mission programs. Seeking help for his drug and alcohol addiction, Wheeler Mission helped him overcome his addiction. “There are many others like me who have benefited from our services,” said Crispin. “Many of us volunteer and give back. There are many stories of success. The Wheeler Mission program saved my life.” Participants in the race represent 48 states, for this race has become a family tradition for many. “It is a wild event to witness,” said Crispin. “Lots of runners dress in costumes, families wear funny hats and all enjoy themselves. Last year Gov. Pence ran the race, and we had the entire cast of The Lord of the Rings represented. It is a fun, family-focused event that raises money for a great cause and gets people out early on Thanksgiving to burn some calories before their big meal.” The race offers three courses: 4.5 miles, 2.7 miles and a Lil’ Gobbler’s Run free for kids. A new feature of this year’s race will be a drone coverage streaming the start and finish. To view, go to TownePost.tv. Please visit wheelermission.org to donate, volunteer and participate in order to help facilitate more success stories.