Eat, talk and walk for a cause at tonight's Alaska Visitor Industry 5K Walk

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - With the warm weather setting in, why not start the beautiful weekend off with a walk for charity?

The 17th Annual Alaska Visitor Industry Charity Walk will take place Friday night, bringing together supporters of dozens of charities, all of whom have a single mission: Raise money for the cause.

Originally developed to spread awareness about how tourism contributes and gives back to the Anchorage community, the walk now does much more than that.

"It's likely the most visible and collaborative effort that the tourism industry does for the community," said Anita Nelson, Public Affairs and Corporate Giving Manager for Visit Anchorage, coordinators of the event. "There are so many great stories from each team. We've got soccer moms and CEOs who all form teams to help charities that are near and dear to their hearts."

Walkers won't only be getting their daily workout in. The walk starts and ends at the Dena'ina Center, but winds through downtown, where restaurants and hoteliers will be hosting food stations all along the 5-kilometer route. A festival at the end of the walk will include more food, drinks, live entertainment, and camaraderie, as well as drawings for items ranging from baseball caps to flightseeing tours.

The charity walk, also know as "Graze to Raise," is based off a model from Hawaii and was established in 2000. The event raised nearly $57,000 last year alone, with that money being distributed to almost 60 different charities in and around the Anchorage area.

The list of beneficiaries from which people can choose is extensive. Some groups have multiple teams, for example AWAIC has four separate squads for this year's walk, while Alaska Literacy raised their own funds so that some of their students could participate.

"One of the unique aspects is that teams are formed to support a common cause," Nelson said. Some team members have never met each other previously.

"But in the lineup, they'll get to know each other," Nelson said. "It's a really great event. It's great family fun, too, and nearly everything is donated so that we can give as much as possible back to the community."

And it isn't just teams with overflowing rosters that will be participating. Service High School boys' soccer has a team of more than 70, while a number of teams have registered as two-person partnerships. Individuals are more than welcome to walk, too.

Fanny Jo Newton, team captain for the King Cove Women's Club team, will have about 40 team members walking with her today. The organization, located about 250 miles from Anchorage, has an Anchorage following that will be at the walk Friday evening.

"We host events and celebrations throughout the year, focused on bringing the community together with healthy activities," Newton said. "There are a few of us who live out here in Anchorage now, and this walk allows us all to get together once a year. If I'd known about it sooner, I would've started then."

King Cove is a small fishing community off the Aleutian Islands, with an average local population average of about 800 people. The women's club is a non-profit established in the 1950s to promote family values and healthy lifestyles, and the walking team was born four years ago.

"It's nice to get out, get out with the rest of the Anchorage community," Newton said. "And we're raising money for such good organizations. Even if you don't join a team, your money still goes to charities in Anchorage as well as in Alaska."

For teams like the KCWC, the walk offers monetary resources important to charities' operations. This year, KCWC has raised more than $1,200, already beyond Newton's goal mark of $1,000. So far, the running total for online donations, without including registration fees, is at around $21,000. Total amount that teams receive will be calculated after the walk, since registration is accepted up until the time of the walk.

"We've got great weather and even better causes, so we're just really excited to be able to give back to the community," Nelson said. "I'm honored to see this many teams that are active in their community and raising funds on their own."

Just because it's Friday doesn't mean it's too late to register. Online registration for the walk, the fees for which are primarily donated to the various charities, will be open until 5:59 p.m. ADT, right before the walk. Head here to sign up.