Jess will inspire you to begin volunteering!
Mediterranean Living’s Wellness Manager, Christine Dutton, met and interviewed Jess Kurti, a passionate and seemingly tireless woman who is traveling the country to run marathons in all 50 states, all while volunteering at all of the Feeding America food banks. Read on for your daily dose of inspiration!
Christine: Jess, you have quite the amazing story. You have been traveling around the country, doing volunteer service supporting the Feeding America network of food banks, all while running marathons in these communities. What inspired you to do this kind of service and make such a dramatic change in your life?
While working at a utility company in Florida, I joined a social group that volunteered at the local food bank, Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida. I volunteered at HCFBSWFL for several years. In November 2012, my department at the utility company was made obsolete because of technology. During the recession, I saw people I worked with really starting to struggle. My former colleagues had to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. The housing crisis was in full force and people were underwater with their mortgages. People were stuck and had to get food from food pantries (I don’t know for certain if any of my coworkers went to food pantries…but they were definitely struggling to make ends meet and couldn’t afford to uproot their children and families). This experience sparked my interest in food banks and began to help me really make the connection between what they do and how they impact people in need. Before, I was completely unaware of Feeding America and their network of food banks. I used to think food banks were just for people homeless and wandering the streets, and were equivalent to soup kitchens and other partner agencies.
I relocated to Orlando, and began volunteering heavily at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida. But still I was unhappy leaving behind the life I had built for over a decade. So with my severance, I decided to go on a massive road trip to reconnect with family and friends, see the country, and also return to marathon running. My goal evolved into running a marathon in every state, so I could join the ‘50 State Marathon Club’, a club of athletes devoted to running a marathon in every state. I continued to volunteer at Feeding America food banks during my travels, to give back to the communities I was so fortunate to visit. As my understanding of the importance of the work of food banks grew, I decided to set the greater goal of volunteering at all 200 Feeding America food banks across the country.
We have a lot of states. Every state is affected by hunger. It’s very challenging for people who live not only in wide open, rural spaces like Montana and Wyoming, but also in our largest cities. So many factors contribute to food insecurity: access to healthy food, transportation, rising costs of housing and childcare, and so on. Although I see my work as raising awareness and compassion, I did set up a page on the Feeding America website for people to donate (http://help.feedingamerica.org/goto/beastofburdenchallenge).
Christine: How long do you think it will take you to accomplish your goal?
I’m working on my 2016 schedule, and it is feasible for me to complete my journey by the end of the year
Christine: Do you have an inspirational story about an organization and/or individual you have worked with that you would like to share with the Mediterranean Living community?
There are very passionate people who have inspired me, as well as some incredible programs (https://unitedfoodbank.org/aboutus/programs/help-yourself/). It’s not just about collecting food and collecting donations. There is a man by the name of Anton Cobb who has a program called HOURLUNCH (http://www.hourlunch.org). Every Wednesday, he gives up his lunch money and lunchtime to collect money in Portland, Oregon to support the efforts of The Oregon Food Bank. He lays down a gingham tablecloth, a vase with a fresh flower, and sits in his suit at a table in Director Park collecting donations. He has raised enough money for the food bank to buy 70,000 meals for people in need. In the future, he would like to have a program for people to take this same approach in other communities.
Christine: Tell me about how you maintain a healthy diet while out on the road?
I try to practice what I preach, with a whole health way of living. I’m interested in exploring how to eat more inexpensively, for my own benefit, and to better understand how one can eat healthfully on a budget. Sometimes I do get tired and eat out. I would love to have a grill for my car and just throw good food on the grill while I’m traveling.
Christine: You always seem so happy. What is your secret?
Deciding to dedicate my life to service above self is a key factor. Whenever I feel things are difficult, I get in touch with friends. I have a lot of gratitude and try to stay humble in the moment. The inspiration that comes from hearing how other people’s lives have been impacted buoys me considerably. I don’t expect people to give their lives up for a cause. I’m glad my work doesn’t come across as self-indulgent. I try to keep my life in balance. One of the things I would like to start doing is 10 minute stretching routines and combine meditation into the routine.
Christine: Have you had an opportunity to introduce others to the importance of volunteering?
People have asked me a lot of questions about how to get involved in volunteering. I have friends who started to volunteer for different organizations because their desire to help has been awakened! I hope I am encouraging people to get more involved with organizations in their local communities.
Christine: Is there anything else that you are working on now and any plans for the future?
The more I learn about poverty and hunger, the more I want to continue my involvement. I’m interested in going to grad school to learn more about advocating for people in need. Ideally, I’d like to work for a food bank within the Feeding America network as a volunteer coordinator or in community engagement. I would consider doing other kinds of work that helps to improve our food system. I’m interested in ending food waste, education, and urban farming programs. I saw Michael Pollan’s movie In Defense of Food and it really spoke to me. He talks about children being more likely to eat good food if you present it to them in a certain way. Watch the movie, In Defense of Food. And also “Just Eat It – A Food Waste Story”.
Hunger never stops. Getting involved year-round, not just during the holidays, is crucial. Joining the fight against hunger is easy! Find your local food bank for volunteer opportunities and other ways to help. Check which restaurants, stores, and other local businesses donate a percentage of their profits to your local food bank. Do a hunger walk. Start a virtual food drive. Every little action helps. You can make a donation to Feeding America through Jess Kurti’s Beast of Burden Challenge here.
Follow Jess’ journey: