In 2011, the Matsunaga Elementary PTA in Germantown, Md., wanted to create a program to address childhood obesity. Taking a cue from the Let’s Move program championed by first lady Michelle Obama, the group decided on an event that would be both fun and inspirational for students and launched the Matsunaga Milk Run and Health Fair.

The annual May event provides exercise, healthy food, family time, and lots of information about healthy lifestyles. Clearly, this parent group found a good formula: In 2011, it attracted 300 runners and 400 attendees, and the next year it brought in 500 runners and 900 attendees.

A key factor in the PTA’s success was making this a true community event. Early on, the parent group reached out to businesses and individuals for support. It decided to name the annual event the Milk Run because Germantown was once a dairy farm community. (Years ago, when a dairy delivered milk to peoples’ homes, the route was known as a milk run.) In fact, the school has a longstanding partnership with the nearby King Barn Dairy MOOseum, which features exhibits and educational programs about the town’s dairy heritage. The PTA sets up the fun run course on the museum’s grounds.

Because of early outreach, the health fair component has boomed, and many area businesses sponsor the Milk Run as well as provide services and information on the day of the event. At the 2013 event, the group raised about $4,000 in sponsorships and received donations of food, milk, and services such as photography. Additionally, it collected another $4,000 in registration fees. Each registered runner receives a T-shirt, medal, goody bag, runner’s bib, post-run snack, and finish-line photo.

Pulling off such a big project starts with a core team of “five PTA moms, committed to promoting healthy lifestyles to our children,” says Kim Summers, the event chairwoman. The team begins in October with the key first step of securing the primary event sponsor. After that, the planning committee can go at a reasonable pace until early spring, when it shifts into high gear.

Summers heads up the fun run component in addition to supervising the entire event; her team handles the runner registration, T-shirts, and sponsors who support the run. The health fair team handles all the vendors, including those who provide food and those who do demonstrations, such as karate or gymnastics. A local pharmacy offers blood pressure readings, and hospital representatives share health information and answer questions. Altogether, about 50 parent volunteers help out, either in the planning phase or on the day of the event, she says.

She says another reason the Milk Run and Health Fair has been a success is because they’ve tailored it to make it fun for families. The event is held on a Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. so it won’t interfere with weekend plans. Three different distances are set up so everyone can participate, from more serious runners who do the 2-mile run, to parents who walk behind strollers, to kindergartners who participate in the shorter half-mile run.

“The entire family can participate in this event,” Summers says. “You can have a great night out with your family in addition to the run—enjoying good food, dancing to the DJ tunes, and spending time with your community.”


Matsunaga Elementary PTA

Germantown, Md.
1,000 students, grades K-5

How a Health Event Takes Shape

October

  • Pick event date in May of following year
  • Secure corporate event sponsors, gather logos

January

  • Meet with committees to assign tasks
  • Contact local businesses for participation in health fair
  • Set runner registration fee
  • Secure DJ and photographers

March

  • Order medals and runner bibs
  • Secure tables and chairs, trash cans and recycling bins
  • Finalize food vendors

April

  • Order T-shirts
  • Collect vendor materials for goody bags
  • Begin volunteer signup

May

  • Finalize health fair layout
  • Finalize run information and map
  • Prepare materials for day of event (signs, runner bags, bibs, and T-shirts, etc.)
  • Publish event pictures on website
  • Thank-you letter to sponsors, donors, and volunteers