RIR’s NAS-CARing efforts

Chris Hardin, the 2006 Henrico Christmas Mother, accepts a check from Richmond International Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier.
There's a new charitable foundation in town, and it has hit the gas hard in only its fourth year of existence.

But the recurring theme at the inaugural Richmond International Raceway Cares Holiday Community Reception was that RIR has been fueling local community efforts for years; the foundation and reception have only made the help official.

Held at RIR's Torque Club, the Dec. 6 celebration highlighted just five of the recipients of more than $300,000 that RIR Cares donated to local non-profits this year through The NASCAR Foundation.

Kathryn Erhardt of Feedmore, Inc. said that RIR's $1,000 check would aid in its mission of feeding the needy by benefiting such services as the Central Virginia Food Bank (CVFB), Meals on Wheels for the elderly and disabled, and the Kids Cafe and weekend BackPack Program for schoolchildren.

"We couldn't do it without RIR," Erhardt told the crowd of vendors, community partners, and representatives of charities that included Big Brother Big Sister, Henrico Police Athletic League, Virginia State University, the Red Cross, and Victory Junction.

Chris Hardin, the 2006 Henrico Christmas Mother (pictured), was on hand to accept a similar check for the program, which benefits nearly 6,000 Henrico County residents with donations of food, gifts and clothing. Another check recipient, Bruce LaLonde of the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia, told the crowd that in addition to maintaining centers at sites such as the Richmond airport, the USO supports military families by taking handicapped children to Kings Dominion and families to Disney World.

Marilyn Milio, executive director of the North Richmond YMCA, noted that the nearby Y is located in an area of concentrated poverty, and virtually all of the families served by the preschool, child care and sports programs require financial assistance.

"It's only through organizations such as RIR," said Milio, "that we're able to help our families.

"Even though RIR Cares is new, we've been receiving support for 10 years."

‘They are right there’
Track President Dennis Bickmeier is also new, as Roy Zeidman of Special Olympics Virginia (SOVA) pointed out.

"So we sort of ambushed him," said Zeidman, describing the tactics used to persuade the newly-installed president to participate in Over the Edge, a fundraising event that enlisted nearly 100 participants to rappel down Richmond's Suntrust Building in October.

"The fire chief had my back," said Bickmeier with a grin and a nod toward officials from Henrico Fire.

"He sent me a note that said, 'If you get stuck, give us a call.”

Bickmeier's rappeling feat was just one example of the ways that RIR has contributed not only funds, but also physical support to charitable causes.

A raceway staff of 34 members, said Bickmeier, invested nearly 500 hours of volunteer labor in such causes as Junior Achievement of Central Virginia, Meals on Wheels, CVFB, the North Richmond Y and Henrico County Operation Paintbrush.

"That's a lot of hours for only 34 [volunteers]," said Bickmeier.

In addition, said Bickmeier, RIR's NASCAR race weekends serve as fundraisers for local organizations, whose members raise money for their charities by selling programs and working in the concession stands.

Beth Rutherford of Rutherford Supply, which lists RIR among its clients, noted at the reception that the track staff doesn't help out only with regular charity events; they also have been known to respond to emergencies.

Whenever the staff at the janitor supply company learns of families in crisis, said Rutherford, employees make an effort to collect gift cards, donations and cleaning supplies to help out. In recent years, recipients of donations have included a couple of families with children who have lost their homes and virtually all the contents to fire.

"Whoever we find, we try to take them in," said Rutherford, whose business is located just across Laburnum Ave. from the racetrack.

"And any time we ask for help [from RIR officials], they are right there."

Toy for Toy
The Torque Club event was followed by the track's annual Christmas Tree Lighting, attended by residents of RIR's neighboring communities and students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School, who provided decorations for the tree. The Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors Band provided musical entertainment, and the Henrico High School Football Boosters shared hot chocolate and cookies.

Donations of toys and food were also collected at the tree lighting on behalf of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and the Central Virginia Foodbank.

And judging from announcements made at the reception, RIR Cares will be topping its 2011 contributions of more than a quarter million dollars with yet another sum before the year is out.

"Bring your donations to the tree lighting, or to the office by next Friday," Bickmeier told the crowd.

"The raceway will match everything brought – toy for toy, and food item for food item."
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