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Best Foot Forward

ECHO 5K Walk/Run is Sept. 24 at Burke Lake Park.

ECHO (Ecumenical Community Helping Others) is sounding a call for help to the community it serves.

The organization is hosting a 5K walk/run on Saturday, Sept. 24 to raise money for a much-needed expansion to its offices on Old Keene Mill Road in Springfield, a project its volunteers have been fund raising toward for years.

"We distribute food, clothes and limited financial assistance to people in the Burke and Springfield communities on a temporary emergency basis," said Kathy Marchetti, coordinator of the event. "We just did a program where we distributed backpacks of school supplies to children in the area and sometimes we'll help with Meals on Wheels," she said.

ECHO needs to expand its facilities, said Marchetti, in order to better serve its clients. "Some of our areas where we do interviews are so crowded, we want to give them dignity when they come in to ask for help," she said. "Plus, if we had more room, we'd be able to store the donations we receive."

Between a lack of funding and the amount of paperwork required by Fairfax County to obtain permission to expand the building, ECHO has been working for several years to get the program underway, she said.

"In the next four weeks, hopefully, we'll start on the expansion, but every time I say that, it ends up being another four weeks," said Marchetti, with a laugh. "This walk will help us raise the money we need to pay for the building. Any money we have to borrow we'll need to pay interest on and it's money we can't use to help our clients."

The cost of expanding the building is around $867,000 for a 4,000 square foot addition, Marchetti said, and currently ECHO has raised $660,000. "We're trying to write grants and appeal to the community."

ECHO is run entirely by volunteers, she said, and the 360 volunteers working there last year gave a total of $52,000 themselves.

"Last year we served about 4,000 people," Marchetti said. "People make appointments to come in for a consultation and, based on their need, they can get food, clothing, maybe some help paying a bill. We serve people in need without discrimination."

ECHO consists of 24 religious organizations of various faiths and denominations throughout Burke and Springfield.

The walk will take place at Burke Lake Park near the Burke Lake Ice Cream Parlor parking lot, with registration beginning at 8 a.m. and the walk scheduled to begin around 8:15 a.m. "We're asking for a $50 donation per person and we're encouraging people to get sponsors," Marchetti said, adding that the donations would be tax deductible.

ECHO BEGAN with seven pastors shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said Pam Gauthier, executive director of ECHO.

"The pastors wanted to do something to ease the frustrations felt in so many inner cities," Gauthier said. "We started in 1967 on paper and in 1968 we were in action." She added that the organization is now entirely run by lay people, all volunteers.

"We help families that are falling in the cracks who need temporary, one-time assistance," she said.

Last week, three families affected by Hurricane Katrina visited ECHO. "There are two more coming in this week that we know of, but once people find out about us they start to call," Gauthier said.

Another fund raiser, a garage sale, is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8, at St. Bernadette's Church on Old Keene Mill Road, Gauthier said, with proceeds going toward the expansion project.

"We're afraid that our construction costs will go up because of the hurricane," she said. "We really want to get started as soon as possible."

Greda Kilday and her husband have been volunteering with ECHO for five years, during which the amount of available space in the facility has greatly diminished.

"We're coming out the doors and ears, we just don't have enough space," she said.

While her husband acts as a counselor for families at ECHO, Kilday said she uses her time and talent with graphics to design posters and fliers for events.

"This walk will be a great thing for us," she said. "People will get together and see what we're doing for the community. These are dedicated volunteers who do so much good. They really need the space to be able to continue to do that."

Despite the cramped conditions, ECHO has been able to provide assistance to the community for over 35 years, she said. "We get frustrated from time to time, but there's so much enjoyment to get out of it too," said Kilday. "Anything you can do to make someone else's life easier is an up."