ST. HELENS, Ore. — A lack of clean water causes disease and death in many developing countries around the world. Five Columbia County women are going to run 30 miles along Highway 30 to help get pure water flowing.
On April 15, St. Helens, Ore., resident Katrina Sharp and Scappoose, Ore., resident Alison Kangas will run from Rainier High School to Scappoose High School. Three friends — Briana Rotter and Ashley Strausser, both from Scappoose, and Katie Olson, from St. Helens — will join the duo for 10 miles each. Kangas and Rotter are sisters and were raised in Rainier.
Their goal is to raise $10,000 for “charity: water,” a charitable organization that works to supply clean water to developing nations. The women are asking people to donate $30 dollars — an amount that reflects the distance and highway route they’ll cover and the amount of money charity: water needs to furnish one person with clean drinking water for life.
As of Thursday afternoon, the group has raised $5,244 from 83 individuals and groups since Jan. 1.
“The response from the community has been overwhelming and really encouraging,” said Rotter, 28. “We have seen ... many, many people giving small amounts.”
Strausser, 39, said after learning about charity: water’s mission, she felt compelled to contribute in some way.
“Women (in developing countries), and often girls, they’re walking on average four hours a day to collect dirty water,” she said. “That means it’s time away from their families, and for the girls, it’s time away from school. So a lot of things suffer because of that. When you give a community clean water, you’re changing their life trajectory.”
Sharp, 39, and Kangas, 25, got the idea for the fundraiser after finishing a relay together and listening to charity: water CEO/founder Scott Harrison talk about his organization on a podcast on their drive home.
“We were thinking, we just got off this run, (and) it was pretty self-serving,” Sharp said. “A lot of runs cost a lot of money, (and) we’ve enjoyed our time, but we always do these things for ourselves. It feels good, but (Harrison) challenged people to think outside themselves and fundraise, and we thought, ‘We could do something.’ ”
The group chose to partner with charity: water because it promises to use 100 percent of public donations for charitable projects. According to a charity: water spokeswoman, the non-profit pays for its administrative and fundraising costs through private donors who specifically earmark contributions for those needs.
About 844 million people worldwide don’t have access to clean water, according to the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Kangas and Rotter ran cross-country at Rainier High School. Kangas said she and Sharp have never ran farther than a half-marathon (12.1 miles) before, but she felt that the physical sacrifice of running 30 miles was one of the reasons for organizing the event.
“In his talk, Scott Harrison had challenged people to push their limits. ... He talked about people who would climb a mountain and ask for a dollar per foot climbed,” Kangas said. “We’ve toyed with the idea of a marathon and 30 miles is just beyond that, (so that) seems somewhat accomplishable if we train for it.”
The women all have slightly different training schedules — some work out at the gym and some are running around 45 miles per week — and being mothers can make the timing of that training difficult. That means running as early as 6 a.m. some mornings.
“Our running times are really weird with being moms; You don’t really want to run pushing kids in a stroller,” Kangas joked.
One chief concern of the runners is safety. Much of Highway 30 between Rainier and St. Helens doesn’t have a sidewalk, and cars and trucks zoom by at relatively high speeds.
According to Sharp, they’re going to wear reflective gear and occasionally run single-file when the shoulder is narrow. The runners even chose early Sunday morning because they knew traffic would be minimal.
Kangas said she hopes drivers are courteous to them.
“We’ve been doing long stretches on the highway on our most recent runs, and sometimes people just go ripping right next to you, and sometimes people actually move over a lane and give you space,” she said.
The women will also be followed by their friend Jessica Cook, driving a van, who’ll switch out the relay runners, provide water and medical assistance if necessary.
Kangas said she thought the geographical journey of her run held some significance.
“Briana and I, having grown up in Rainier and now living in Scappoose, it’s kind of fun, (running) from where you were born to where you live now,” she said.
Rotter said she’s amazed that how Columbia County has banded together to financially support developing countries.
“I’m really inspired by (the donations), because it’s a community in Columbia County that’s helping another community somewhere in the world,” she said. “What an inspiration it is to be able to just help the world, even in our small community.”