After four years of volunteering, Jess has lost count of the exact number of food banks she has volunteered at. The unofficial number is 185.
The face of hunger became real to Jess after seeing her co-workers' struggling after her whole department was downsized due to technological upgrades, making their jobs obsolete. She saw her co-workers mortgages go underwater and others having to take on two or three jobs to get by.
“I saw worry and I saw real fear for people,” Jess said.
After attending an information session and getting a tour of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, Jess realized the magnitude of hunger, not only in her community but across the nation.
When she found out no one had ever volunteered at all 200 Feeding America food banks, she decided to take on the task to raise awareness about food insecurity and how food banks are fighting hunger.
“I knew I wanted a service driven life. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me and really make a difference,” Jess said.
To highlight the importance of leading an active lifestyle as a whole health approach to helping food-insecure families, Jess set a goal of running a marathon in all 50 states while giving back to the community.
Though she’s met her marathon goal and has increased it to completing 100 marathons, she still needs to finish volunteering at food banks in Utah, Alabama, Virginia and Florida.
After years of volunteering, she has done it all—helping sort perishable and non-perishable food, preparing meals in the kitchen, and distributing food at mobile pantries—but her favorite activity is being out in the community helping to distribute food and connecting with families.
“One of the things I’ve really grown to love about volunteering is that when you come into a food bank, the work you do is so immediate,” Jess said. “None of that food sits around for long, whether you’re sorting cans or go to a mobile pantry distribution. Those people get the food right there.”
It hasn’t been a smooth journey for Jess. Originally, her adventure was supposed to last two years, but it got delayed after suffering two injuries from running marathons.
Though her focus has shifted to volunteering more at the food banks, her goal is to get back to running one marathon a week. With only a couple of states left to go, she wants to finish her adventure in her home state of Florida.
After visiting all the food banks, Jess’ dream job is to work for a food bank, but volunteering will always be an important part of her life.
“Volunteering became so amazing because I know food banks couldn’t do what they do without all the volunteer hours. No matter what kind of resources an area has, it would not be economically possible without volunteers,” Jess said.