More than 2,000 runners cross their fingers for a warm Sunday morning as they anticipate to take part in a 5K. Motivated to raise money for a local nonprofit that resettles immigrants, the runners will kickstart their Super Bowl Sunday by assuming a firm opposition to President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders banning immigration from seven majority Muslim countries,
With 2,500 registered attendees, the tenth annual Run For Refugees is seeing an unprecedented number of sign-ups this year. The five kilometer run/walk fundraising event, hosted by Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, starts and finishes at Wilbur Cross High School.
Though IRIS began to advertise for the annual activity last November, the outpouring of support for the charity run spiked after the IRIS Benefit Concert last Sunday night, according to Ann O’Brien, acting director of communication at IRIS. Both Yale and New Haven musicians organized the Sunday gathering in defiance of President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order, which temporarily bans citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country, suspends entry of all refugees to the U.S. for the next 120 days and indefinitely prohibits Syrian refugees.
“The attack on the refugee program is unprecedented,” O’Brien said. “The rate at which people registered to do this was unprecedented.”
At the beginning of January, after two months of publicizing the event, there were 200 to 300 registrants. But within 48 hours of Trump’s executive order, IRIS received 600 more sign-ups, O’Brien said.
In 2016, the race drew 1,100 people — then a record for the race. The 2015 iteration featured 700 entries. But this year, with still a week to go, the organization already saw a record of 1,800 registrations for the race, according to O’Brien.
To accommodate the overflowing interest in the race, IRIS at one point considered opening up a second time slot that would take in more entries, O’Brien said. Ultimately, IRIS decided against the idea, citing that separating event attendees would cost the race its sense of camaraderie and solidarity.
She said the run is capped at 2,500 entries due to safety and logistical concerns, adding that community volunteers for the event are organizing a march that will take place immediately after the race. The march, which will include runners from the race as well as those who did not have the chance to participate beforehand, will end at the New Haven Green.
“We just felt like it would lose the experience for people if you try to push 2,500 people through and then two hours later push another 2,500 people through,” O’Brien said. “People really want to be together.”
Though the race will include professional athletes and amateur racers alike, O’Brien said she hopes the vast majority of the people who participate purely for the cause will simply go from the race to the march.
The run has reached beyond the Yale and New Haven communities, with runners from Boston and New York joining in the Sunday run.
“I’ve never seen something like this in all my  years of coordinating events,” said race event coordinator and owner of JB Sports John Bysiewicz, who annually coordinates the IRIS Run for Refugees but is not otherwise affiliated with the organization.
According to Bysiewicz, the race will feature a different time-tracking system, portable toilets and an improved sound system to accommodate all the participants. Shuttle buses will take runners between provided parking at Yale and the site of the race, he added.
He said that so far, participants have raised over $120,000 for IRIS but total funds will most likely exceed $200,000 by Sunday.
“The fundraising has been phenomenal for this race,” Bysiewicz said. “There’s been a lot of groundswell with the changing political climate. People want to be involved, and this is a great way they felt they could make their voices be heard and raise some money for a great organization.”
IRIS receives its funding partly from the federal government — money that is proportional to the number of refugees the organization serves — and partly from self-organized fundraising events and private donations, O’Brien said, adding that IRIS’s services will not decrease despite the slash of federal money due to Trump’s ban.
According to Bysiewicz, recent interest can be attributed to social media. He said although event coordinators mailed a catalog to about 30,000 Connecticut runners and sent frequent email blasts to publicize the event, IRIS did not have to advertise as much as previous years. About 50 refugees, who receive support from IRIS to learn English as well as to find jobs and housing, will be participating in this year’s run, Bysiewicz added.
“People are looking for a way to show support for what IRIS is doing and for refugees,” said Isabel Bysiewicz ’20, who has participated in the race multiple times since it started. “I’ve seen a lot of people show support for refugees, IRIS and this race on Facebook.”
Several Yale residential colleges have provided free tickets for students.
According to Kaan Cankat ’20, who signed up the day he heard about the race, about 10 to 15 people from Berkeley College plan to run as a group.
“I care about the cause. I didn’t see how it could hurt to do it,” he said.
IRIS provided settlement services for 530 refugees in 2016.