Despite temperatures in the 30s made colder by a brisk wind, about 300 people turned out Saturday morning for a fund-raising walk for Japanese-disaster relief.
An estimated $10,000 was raised at the Bluegrass Community Walk at Lexington's Coldstream Park, said Winn Stephens, director of development for the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Miki Sawaoka, a 17-year-old Japanese exchange student at Scott County High School, was touched by the hundreds who came to show their support. She is from Sendai, the closest major city to the epicenter of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Fortunately, her parents' house is on higher ground and was not damaged.
"I have no words to say except 'thank you,' " a tearful Sawaoka told the crowd from a stage before the walk began. "I want you guys to know how you have made me happy by coming here."
Officials from the Toyota plant in Georgetown suggested the idea of hosting a free community event to the Red Cross, Stephens said. Walkers didn't have to secure pledges or sponsors; they just had to show up, walk the mile loop and donate money if they wished.
Mark Tackett of Midway, a Toyota team leader, brought his son, Colton, 5, and daughter, Emily, 9, to the event.
"We're sorry for what's happened to Japan," Tackett said. "I have a great deal of compassion and respect for those people. And I thought it would be good for my children to experience this sort of activity. I really wanted to teach my children how to have compassion for people."
Terry Burkhart, chief executive officer of the Red Cross chapter, asked for a moment of silence to remember disaster victims.
Then the 30-minute walk began on a paved walking path at the park behind Embassy Suites.
Yukie Kajita, a post-doctoral scholar in the entomology department at the University of Kentucky, and Bridget Sousa, a UK grad student, dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos that Sousa bought last week at a garage sale.
"I just want to show the Japanese spirit today," Kajita said as Ellie, a beagle-boxer mix, tugged at her leash. The damaged nuclear facilities are about 40 miles from Kajita's relatives in Koriyama.
"They're okay, but they worry about the radioactive material," Kajita said.
Sousa was a little out of breath as she tried to keep up with Justine, a Border Collie mix. "It's very hard to run in a kimono," she said.
Kajita's husband, Eric O'Neill, walked Maggie, a beagle-shepherd mix. All three dogs belonged to O'Neill and Kajita, and all three wore homemade bandannas that Kajita had made.
"There's a huge amount of effort being put in by the Red Cross to house these people who have been displaced," O'Neill said. "It's really important for us to help those in need."
The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and the tsunami that followed resulted in more than 10,000 deaths, and more than 14,000 people are still listed as missing, according to Japanese government numbers relayed to the Red Cross.
As of Saturday morning, more than 260,000 people — close to Lexington's 2010 population of 295,000 — are in shelters in Japan. The Red Cross has 2,000 shelters operating there.