CHICO — They came to raise money for a good cause, they came to have fun, and they came to walk or run.

And they came by the thousands.

A record 4,740 people showed up at One-Mile Recreation Area in Bidwell Park on Thanksgiving morning to participate in the 7th annual Run for Food. The run/walk is a 5-mile event to raise money for the Jesus Center.

"It's kind of a Chico event," said Jim Bond, a member of the Run for Food board of directors who was waiting to run with his wife. "It's the thing to do on Thanksgiving morning."

It was a perfect morning, with blue sky, heavy dew and a canopy of bright autumn colors.

And wow, has it grown!

Chicoans young and old and in-between arrived early, and as the start of the run approached, it was evident to organizers that they would exceed last year's numbers.

The Run for Food began in 2006 with about 1,000 participants.

This year, Rich Young said they had tallied 4,500 advance registrants by the end of the day Wednesday.

But by the start of the run Thursday, that number had swelled even higher to what an announcer told the crowd was an "all-time record" 4,740 people.

The number far exceeded last year's record-breaking 4,180 registrants, who raised $69,000 to provide more than 100,000 meals for the Jesus Center.

Bond didn't know how much they raised this year, but he said it might reach as much as $80,000 after expenses are deducted.

"It's a great event to get people out and exercise, and for fundraising for the Jesus Center," Bond said. "God keeps providing and brings these people out!"

The run itself began at 9 a.m. with timed racers leading.

Fifteen minutes and 40 seconds later, the first racer returned to the finish line, while many participants were still streaming through the start line.

Among the throng was a family of 20 people, all from Willows. Elvira DiMaggio was part of that family and was with her 5-year-old daughter and her mother.

DiMaggio was one of several people who participated in the Run for Food for the first time.

"My brother from Arizona signed us all up as a family to come run," she said.

She said she planned to walk the 5-mile loop, and to "finish, enjoy and come back next year."

Chicoan Dave Koch was a repeat participant, having joined the event for the last three years.

He said he does it because it's a good cause and because his wife is a runner.

"We make this an annual event now," Koch said.

Another first-timer, Chicoan Erick Fuchs, gave a different reason for participating.

"I felt like giving back to the community, and I enjoy running," he said, shivering in the early morning chill.

He said he had the day off from work and planned to kick back and relax after the event.

Until then, he and others would run.

"It's not about the run, it's about having fun.," Fuchs said, adding later, "It's a great day to do it, and it's also helping people."