A man ran 20.2 miles to raise money for kids who can't afford yearbooks

Students made signs to cheer him on. By Amanda Jackson, CNN

(CNN) -- An avid marathon runner in New Jersey laced up his shoes and set out to run 20.20 miles last weekend -- but his mission was different this time.

Patrick Rodio, 47, wasn't aiming to set a personal record or come in first place during a race. Instead, he ran to raise money for graduating seniors at Collingswood High School.

Specifically for their yearbooks -- which, at $75 per copy, can be pricey for some students.

"I had seen other runners still doing their marathons which is fun, but I wondered if I could tie a fundraising element into a run for my local high school since many of their fundraising events were canceled," Rodio told CNN. "So through that I thought it'd be fun to run 20.20 miles for the class of 2020!"

The 177 seniors at Collingswood High School, like many around the nation, have had their final year disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Classes are now conducted virtually, and their prom and in-person graduation ceremony have been canceled. Knowing that students have worked 12 years to get to their final year, Rodio wanted to help make sure they are all able to get their final keepsake.

"We have a lot of students that it would be hard for them to buy a yearbook," Robert Lewandowski, a commissioner of the town, told CNN. "Now you add the economical impact that the pandemic has caused with people losing their jobs and that obstacle of purchasing a yearbook is that much harder."

Through the use of Collingswood Cares, a local non-profit that helps provide meals and transportation to families in need, Lewandowski helped Rodio set up an online fundraising site for people to donate money as he completed the run.

On Sunday, Rodio wore a neon green shirt that said "run 856" on the front -- the town's area code and the local running club's name -- and sprinted through the streets.

The town is small, so the course Rodio took entailed doing a loop through the local park and passing by the high school. After 14 times around this course, he completed his the race in a little over three hours.

Students, parents and even other runners showed up to cheer him on, all while maintaining social distancing, of course. They held signs of encouragement, rang cowbells and honked their car horns to show their support.

By Tuesday evening, Rodio had raised over $5,000.

"This fundraiser has been a great reminder of the way our school district and community will do whatever it takes to support our students," Matthew Genna, principal at Collingswood High School, told CNN. "This gesture by Mr. Rodio, and all those who supported the fundraiser, was a special tribute to our seniors, who certainly deserve something special during this difficult time."

This act of kindness even reached New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who tweeted out gratitude for Rodio.

The fundraising website will continue until this weekend, Rodio said. Anything extra they raise will be used to give scholarships to students.

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