Dressed in festive costumes—their pilgrim belts tightened, and turkey-winged hats secured—some have their eyes on a medal while others set their sights on the pies and craft beers awaiting them at the finish line. Steve Boudreau, a University City resident, is among this crowd of thousands every year, but his motives extend beyond the competition and delicious sweets. He runs to remember his father.
“It’s a way for me to honor him and the work he did for Father Joe’s Villages,” said Boudreau, whose wife and children have always joined him in the 5K. “It helps me feel I’m still connected to him.”
Father Joe’s Villages, a nonprofit dedicated to serving San Diego’s homeless community, founded the Thanksgiving 5K in 2002. Complete with live music, a beer garden, costume contest and award ceremony, the goal of this race is to raise funds for the 1 million meals Father Joe’s distributes each year.
Boudreau’s father, Maurice, was one of the charter members on the board until he died from heart disease in 1983, only one year after Father Joe’s was established.
“He wasn’t there for very long, but my dad always raised us to be charitably-minded,” said Boudreau who is one of seven siblings. “I remember this time when Father Joe’s received a shipload of yellow and black letterman-style jackets. This is the last year of my father’s life and we’re standing in this truck passing these jackets out to homeless people at Thanksgiving time. Years later, I’d be walking around town and see guys still wearing those jackets. I think that was the first charity act my dad and I did together.”
While the 5K is near and dear to his heart, there’s another fundraiser that’s even more precious to Boudreau.
While attending Maurice’s funeral, a young Father Joe Caroll, now in his 80s, was struck by how many lawyers, attorneys and judges were in attendance. Boudreau’s father had made a career as a lawyer and was therefore well-known in legal circles. This realization was how Father Joe came up with the idea of the Red Boudreau Trial Lawyers Dinner.
“It’s named after my father,” said Boudreau. “Red” was his nickname because he had bright red hair. This is also one of the events I think Father Joe most likes to be associated with. He’s always enjoyed hanging around with attorneys, especially my dad.”
This black-tie event presents awards to civil trial lawyers who have distinguished themselves among the San Diego Community. The fundraiser has lasted more than 30 years and all the proceeds have gone to benefit Father Joe’s Villages. Last year the Red Boudreau Dinner raised $115,000.
“Red was very committed to our mission and with Steve, our mission is very much a part of him and in his blood,” said Deacon Jim Vargas, President and CEO of Father Joe’s Villages. “Steve is someone who looks at those who are vulnerable and those who are poor and those who don’t have a voice and he’s there advocating for them because he knows they can’t do it for themselves. And now he’s teaching his own children how to do the same.”
While their vast collection of years-past t-shirts are about as dresses up as his family gets, come rain or shine the Boudreau clan is at the starting line an hour and a half before everyone else. Boudreau is known by Vargas and other Father Joe’s volunteers as the “coffee and pastries guy,” making sure the family and friends he’s recruited to join in the fun are always sugared up and caffeinated.
“Everyone grabs an apple fritter and lines up to start the race,” said Boudreau. “I still have pictures of my kids in their strollers at the Thanksgiving walk. Now my grandkids will grow up knowing that’s what we do and I think, when the time presents itself, they’ll have a background where they’ll be comfortable stepping into what we’ve already done.”
While Boudreau served for a time on the board of directors, his son Seth also spent time working at Father Joe’s Villages. It’s very much a “family affair” as Vargas puts it and he says the organization has always been able to rely on them. While Boudreau admits he sometimes feels a bit like a spokesperson for Father Joe’s, he says his opinions come from being “up to his elbows in it” with his own father and being raised to see the need for philanthropy in San Diego.
“As hard as Father Joe’s Villages works at it, the problem is just gigantic and growing, so the more people that get involved, the better as far as I’m concerned and I start with my family,” said Boudreau. “I think the most successful groups are where the local people are involved with their own energy and vision about how to best deal with these issues. But that’s part of the San Diego spirit that allows so many good things to be done in the city. It’s a very giving place. My dad showed me that.”