Nehemiah Cionelo, a redshirt sophomore on the University of New Mexico’s cross country team, held a virtual fundraiser called Footsteps for Families on Saturday, July 18, providing school supplies to low-income New Mexican families that have been negatively impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
145 people attended the virtual event, according to Cionelo. Participants logged in 848 miles, and local businesses and individual donors contributed school supplies for every mile logged.
Cionelo said participants logged their mileage online after they finished running, and also were told to follow the social distance guidelines imposed by the state.
“Personally, I ran solo with a mask and encouraged those participating to do the same,” Cionelo said.
When Cionelo wished to help out low-income individuals or families that are in a tough position due to the pandemic, he turned to Anthony Fleg, a family doctor at the UNM Hospital.
Fleg was Cionelo’s coach when he was a part of the Cougar Track Club where Cionelo developed into an elite athlete in his youth, and was an integral part of the event’s success.
“Fleg was crucial to making this possible.” said Cionelo. “He’s definitely helped me by backing the event and connecting me to the right people and organizations. He has also been incredibly encouraging and helped me find more opportunities to impact my community.”
The Native Health Initiative’s Loving Support Fund also helped Cionelo, along with Savannah Salazar and Cionelo’s brothers, who collected the donations.
When asked if the event was successful, Cionelo said that he believed that it was.
“Even at this moment, we have been collecting donations so it’s been hard to put a total number on how well it went… that being said, it’s a win in my book if we can get good school supplies to just a few kids who would’ve otherwise gone without,” Cionelo said.
Though the group fell just shy of its 1,000 mile goal, Cionelo said he was grateful to everyone that participated in the event, saying "many people hadn’t heard about the event until that day and they pulled together, donating school supplies, money and even snacks.”
“Being able to run for that kind of cause and make that impact was an awesome opportunity,” Cionelo said.
“I’m just honestly blown away to see how charitable and generous the community is,” added Cionelo. “It was amazing to see everyone come together for a cause like that.”
For Cionelo, his attempts to help those that are struggling are only just getting started, as he is helping run another school-supply drive at the UNM School of Law building on Thursday, July July 30.
Cionelo said that any physical supplies can be dropped off at the School of Law building office or at Johnson Center from 3 to 5 p.m. He added that those interested can also go to the Native Health Initiative’s website to donate online.
Spencer Butler is a sports reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SpencerButler48.