You wouldn’t normally expect to find a group of New York bartenders standing in Central Park at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It’s a big thing to ask of those who only clocked off service a few hours previous, but they were out in force last weekend to support the 15th annual Concern Spring Run.

More than 1,500 participants gathered this past Saturday for the four mile run in Central Park to fight poverty. Showing their support for one of Ireland’s most prominent charities, Concern’s first New York fundraising event of 2011 has raised more than $135,000 to date.

First established as “Africa Concern” in the home of Kay and John O’Loughlin Kennedy in March 1968, the Irish charity’s work in humanitarian development is recognized throughout the world.

“I have been doing the race for about 10 years,” Nav Ramzan from Tipperary told the Irish Voice.  “I started with the first bar team about 10 years ago with a colleague of mine and we started off with around 10 people.

“The following year we had 65 and then we started spreading the word around the bars, to-day there was over 70 of us,” the team leader added.

Clearly visible in their sky-blue team shirts, staff and friends from the Amity Hall and the Half Pint bars in Manhattan were just one of the many teams that got involved in the annual charity event. Collectively the group managed to raise well over $5,000 for the event.

“Pretty much anywhere there is trouble in the world, Concern are there taking care of people,” reflected Ramzan.

Galway native Therese O’Higgins had a similar sentiment on the day.

“It’s great to be involved and active in the Irish community here in New York, and Concern being an Irish organization that supports worldwide causes, I said why not dedicate my Saturday morning,” O’Higgins told the Irish Voice.

The Manhattan resident persuaded her girlfriends to get involved, and they were all upbeat and basking in the warm morning sun after they finished the race.

“I feel great, and I am definitely going to do it again next year,” O’Higgins added.

Anna Guisbond from Syracuse in upstate New York said this was the perfect excuse for her to support a charity event and enjoy the good weather.

“I love giving my time and supporting a good cause,” said Guisbond. “I feel invigorated and inspired and I want to it again next Saturday!”

When the Irish Voice met one of top fundraisers for the event, Mark Galway, he said that the annual spring run has become a habit.

“I do it every year.  I put a team in from Woodlawn and we have been doing it for the last four or five years,” said Galway, originally from Wexford.

“It’s for a good cause. I do a lot of running anyway,” Galway added.

After signing up several friends from his neighborhood in the Bronx as part of the Woodlawn Flyers team,

Galway admitted that the early Saturday morning start was too much for some.

“I think we had around 20 but 12 of them showed up, the rest of them got lost last night somewhere!” he joked.

Sprawled out under a tree after the race, Daniel Campos from Brooklyn was feeling good after finishing the four mile course in third place.

“I found out about the race at the last minute and decided to take part,” he said.

Campos finished the race in an impressive 23 minutes.

Speaking about the success of the event, Sandra Feeney Charles, the development officer with Concern Worldwide in New York told the Irish Voice that those who get involved in the annual Spring Run are doing it for the right reasons.

“We have a core growth of supporters that come back every year and they work really hard, they find a crew and bring them with them,” said Feeney Charles.

Each year participation levels are increasing. “We are growing steadily and are up about 25 percent participation on last year,” she added.

“Considering the climate we are working in we make an effort to keep our donators updated and you have to work a little but harder for the next dollar,” reflected the Concern officer.

“We have six events throughout the year and it’s great to start the year on such a positive note.  Our ultimate goal is to reach our fundraising targets and we have to go that extra step.”

While Concern’s Irish connection is important, Feeney Charles pointed out that that the charity has evolved into global operation, with more than 3,200 staff of 50 nationalities spread throughout the world.

“We have a strong Irish connection but Concern is working in 25 countries throughout the world so we really are an international office,” she added.