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Kaitlin Chaffin, 8, was keeping an eye out for woolly bear caterpillars as she walked along the Butler Acres nature trail after school Wednesday.

The third-grader and her mother, Sara Chaffin, racked up laps together in hopes of winning a taco party, donated by Taco Time in Kelso, for Kaitlin’s class during the elementary school’s first-ever walk-a-thon.

But the Bemisdarfer family arrived to the walk-a-thon determined to secure the win for the first-graders.

“We brought the whole family, so those first-graders better win,” said Trudi Bemisdarfer, whose first grade daughter, Ocean, attends Butler Acres.

More than 500 people participated in the walk-a-thon, walking 1,037 miles overall. The event replaced the traditional PTO-sponsored fundraiser.

“In the past 20 years, they have done cookie dough or selling (other goods),” said Jon Webb, Butler Acres physical education teacher. “This year we said, “Enough, let’s do something fun and healthy.’”

The walk-a-thon raised money through “pledges” from community members willing to back students in the event. A pledger could donate as little as $1.

“I think this may have been more beneficial because people can donate any amount of money. It’s not like a set $15 for cookie dough,” Bemisdarfer said.

Sara Chaffin, PTO member, said the walk-a-thon “might be the new thing” because “nobody wants to buy five dozen donuts.”

“It was definitely a nice change, and it is nice to have everyone out walking,” Sara Chaffin said.

Throughout the week, kids earned prizes for their pledges. Students who raised $25 joined the “Gold Club,” which allowed them to ride “teacher taxis” during the school day. (Teachers wheeled these students from class to class on office chairs).

Royal Club members raised at least $50 and earned the chance to participate in the “Blue Jay bird bath,” where they will douse the principal and assistant principal with chocolate sauce and whipped cream, then throw water at them to wash away the mess.

VIP Club members raised $100 or more, earning root beer floats a walk-a-thon T-shirt.

“There’s more excitement around this event than any other fundraiser we’ve had,” said Principal Cindy Cromwell.

While the pledges fueled the fundraiser, Cromwell said the purpose of the walk-a-thon transcended financial gain.

“This event gets families together and it promotes exercise...It’s about giving kids and parents memories, which is more valuable than a box of cookies,” Cromwell said.

Webb said the event focused on connecting kids with their community and providing them a chance to give back to their school.

The walk-a-thon also sparked a bit of friendly rivalry among the Butler Acre families.

“Our family is really competitive, so (Ocean) was going door-to-door for pledges — even in Longview,” Bemisdarfer said, adding that the strategy was occasionally successful.

The PTO set a goal to make $10,000 from the walk-a-thon, which is almost equivalent of every student raising $25. Although the official count will not be available until Friday, Webb said he’s confident the fundraiser met its goal.

In the end, the Bemisdarfer family helped Ocean and the first graders finish third in the competition. Kaitlin Chaffin and the other third graders took the cake — or rather tacos — with 454 total laps, or 227 miles.

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