The Syrup Stampede returns: Annual fundraiser for Empty Arms expects to draw 1,000 to Look Park on Sunday

Empty Arms Bereavement will host its annual Syrup Stampede at Look Park in Florence on Sunday. The event, expected to draw 1,000, is a major fundraiser for the organization that supports families who have experienced the loss of a baby to miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death.

Empty Arms Bereavement will host its annual Syrup Stampede at Look Park in Florence on Sunday. The event, expected to draw 1,000, is a major fundraiser for the organization that supports families who have experienced the loss of a baby to miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO


For the Gazette

Published: 04-05-2024 2:35 PM

Modified: 04-05-2024 5:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — An organization that for years has served as an invaluable resource for families who have experienced infant loss — though what one member admits is “the best group of people you never want to be a part of” — is gearing up to host some 1,000 people this weekend at its annual Syrup Stampede fundraiser.

The Empty Arms Bereavement event, which includes a 5K run, a 2K walk, and a pancake breakfast, will take place Sunday at Look Park in Florence.

The Syrup Stampede is a way for community members to engage with and support those who have experienced infant death, which can be a challenging and taboo subject to breach, Empty Arms founder Carol McMurrich said.

“A piece of pregnancy and infant loss that is really tricky for family and friends is nobody knows what to do, and nobody knows what to say,” McMurrich said. “This is a way in which people get to show up and they don’t have to use their words, but they are showing up in such a meaningful way by supporting the organization.”

Empty Arms has operated in western Massachusetts since 2007 in support of families who have experienced the death of an infant, including through miscarriage, stillbirth, death soon after birth, or termination for medical reasons.

The Syrup Stampede began in 2018 and is now Empty Arms’ biggest fundraiser, each year bringing in about a third of the organization’s annual budget. Those funds are used to help staff the organization, train and pay support group facilitators and hospital companions, and offset local families’ costs associated with infant death.

The Stampede takes its inspiration in part from the annual Safe Passage Hot Chocolate Run, which raises money in support of survivors of domestic violence.

“Essentially, we were trying to figure out how it would be possible for an infant loss organization to make an event that people will come to, who aren’t active participants in our organization,” McMurrich said.

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The event ran in 2018 and 2019, but was stopped in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, Empty Arms put on a modified “drive-by” version of the Stampede, where participants picked up local maple-flavored baked goods to mitigate the potential spread of the virus. The run/walk and pancake breakfast returned in 2023 and will run for the fourth time this year.

Amanda Adams, who volunteers for Empty Arms and has been a member of the Syrup Stampede planning committee for the past three years, said the event supports “a wonderful group of people in a wonderful organization.”

Adams first came in contact with the organization through their companion program after her daughter, Nora, was stillborn on New Year’s Eve in 2019.

“In the very early days of my loss, Empty Arms was very much like my life raft,” she said. “I had never navigated this before. I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t know people in my life who had experienced this. … They provided that immediate one-on-one individual support.”

“We all say that this is the best group of people you never want to be part of,” Adams added. “It really is lifesaving.”

Among other services, Empty Arms helps fund burials and cremations, creates memorials, writes and distributes literature about infant loss, and provides local natal centers with supplies. It also creates and distributes care packages for people who experience infant loss outside of a hospital setting, such as through early miscarriage or infertility.

The organization operates 10 monthly support groups for people affected by infant loss and provides individual family support as needed. According to McMurrich, Empty Arms directly assists about 60 local families each year and has worked with “many thousands” of families since it began.

McMurrich’s vision for Empty Arms was informed by her own experience of infant loss after her daughter, Charlotte, died in childbirth on May 13, 2003.

“I lost my first baby, and my own desperation for community was kind of the spark that got this going,” she said. “I was partially inspired by the fact that, when my daughter died, I had such an amazing community myself … and I still felt just desperately alone, because even though they all were so wonderful and loving, they did not understand what I was going through.”

The Syrup Stampede, McMurrich said, aims to both provide a space for those who have experienced infant loss and to involve members of the community in Empty Arms’ work.

“It’s so powerful for so many people that are peripherally connected to someone who has experienced a pregnancy or infant loss, because it’s such an easy and fun way for them to show up and show their support without having to navigate such difficult conversations,” McMurrich said.

Infant loss is a relatively common occurrence, but it’s a topic that is often omitted from reproductive or family health care, McMurrich said. About 20,000 infant deaths are reported in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the national infant mortality rate rose by about 3% in 2022, the first uptick in more than two decades. According to March of Dimes, the natal health nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia, about 10 to 20% of known pregnancies end in a miscarriage.

“This is part of so many people’s reproductive and family lives, is that they come up against barriers, whether that’s infertility or miscarriage or stillbirth or whatever,” McMurrich said. “And then those stories get kind of canceled from our histories. But we created an environment where people get to own that as part of their story, and I think that feels really good to people.”

Empty Arms hopes to raise $78,000 through this year’s Syrup Stampede, which begins at 10 a.m. The online entry portal for the race has closed, but same-day sign-up will be available for both the 5K and the 2K. Tickets cost $30 for adult entry, $20 for children ages 13-17, and $15 for children ages 4-12. Participants may also opt for the “pancake-only” option, which costs $10.