Jess Kurti is on a mission she calls the ‘Beast of Burden Challenge.’ Her goal is to visit all 200 of the Feeding America food banks across the county as she travels to run 100 marathons.
Until the fall of 2012, Jess Kurti lived in Ft. Myers, FL, worked for a local utility company, ran with local groups to train for marathons, and volunteered periodically at her local food bank to help with some of their larger events. Then she was downsized out of her job by advances in technology that made her job obsolete. It was the height of the recession and the Ft. Myers area was hit hard by the housing crisis. A lot of her friends and former co-workers were struggling to make ends meet and keep food on the table– working 2 and 3 jobs, trying to hold on until a better job opened up.
Although out of a job, Jess still felt somewhat fortunate. She was single with no children, had money in savings, and rented her housing. Other than a group of good friends, she felt she had no real ties to the area. So she headed to Central Florida and landed in Kissimmee. As she continued searching for a job, she began volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida and loved it. It was during this time that she decided that she wanted to make a shift in her life – to live a life that included more service to others.
Moving to Kissimmee also involved meeting new running and training partners and the idea of becoming a “50 Stater” – someone who had run a marathon in each of the 50 states. In early 2013, Jess decided that she would start making road trips to participate in marathons, use that time to reconnect with family and friends that were spread all over the country, and volunteer at different food banks while in new areas as well. That way she was both taking care of herself and helping meet the needs of others. The first road trip lasted about 8 months.
She found that that pattern would begin to repeat itself: run, reconnect, volunteer, go back to Florida.
In early 2014 during on one of her rest breaks back in Kissimmee, the idea occurred to her that she could visit all 200 of the Feeding America affiliates while meeting the 50 state marathon goal. By October of 2014, she realized that visiting the food banks in each area she raced had become as important to her as running the races themselves.
“My goal is to get people to learn about hunger in their community. But it is also to get them to realize how easy it is for the average person to get involved. I’m just an average person. What I’m doing is extraordinary and not something everyone can do, but everyone can help.”
Jess often stays with family, friends, or runners she‘s met through her travels. “My family has been weirdly supportive in this endeavor. The running community and the food bank community have also both been amazing. I’ve never felt unsafe. The people I’ve encountered have been so welcoming and open.”
“Looking back now at my volunteering days in Ft. Myers, I realized that I didn’t know what hunger really looked like. Preventable and curable diseases are prevalent in the food-insecure community. We need a whole-health approach to ending hunger and that’s what I advocate. We as a society can do better.”
Jess’s June 7th time at Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland in Elizabethtown is food bank visit #126.
She met the 50 state marathon goal in September, 2015, but hasn’t finished all of the Feeding Americas yet– so she raised the marathon goal to 100. Jess has currently run 71 marathons with the aim of volunteering at all 200 of the Feeding America food banks by April, 2017.
You can follow Jess’s progress on Instagram: #beastofburdenchallenge OR on Twitter: @ JessKurti_ BOBC.