By Polina Marinova
Special to CNN
(CNN) — When people want to give back to their community, they typically pull out their checkbooks.
Jayson Black decided to pull out his running shoes.
The 28-year-old IT consultant pledged to run 26.2 miles a day for 26 days — a total of 681.2 miles — to raise money and awareness for the Three Square Food Bank of Southern Nevada.
“My hopes are that people will see and hear about this epic mission and open their eyes a little bit,” Black said on day eight of his challenge. “Las Vegas isn’t all about the sparkling lights and big hotels and casinos. In the shadows and down the alleys that surround the Strip, people are hungry.”
Black spent Thanksgiving Day on the street.
He woke up, went to church and ran all day. After completing his daily marathon, Black came home for a Thanksgiving meal of salad and protein shakes.
He’s not complaining. He says he started this challenge to draw attention to impoverished people who go hungry on a daily basis.
“You drive around any city in the United States, and there’s always someone somewhere holding a sign or digging through a garbage can for something to eat,” he says. “It’s great that everyone donates a turkey at Thanksgiving, but this is something bigger than just Thanksgiving.”
An estimated 16.2% of the Southern Nevada population is considered “food insecure,” meaning people do not know when or from where their next meal will come.
That’s above the national average of 14.5% for 2012, according to Feeding America. Nationally, some 17.6 million households are considered “food insecure.”
Matt Muldoon, chief development officer at Three Square Food Bank, says Southern Nevada’s continued poverty is due in large part to the “triple whammy” that occurred in 2008: home foreclosures, bankruptcies and high unemployment.
“The economic recovery — if there’s any going on in the country — has really not entrenched itself here,” Muldoon says.
Though Black has never participated in an official race, he often runs marathon distances. The most he has ever run in one day is 52 miles. When Black pitched his idea, Muldoon knew he could trust Black to complete this challenge to raise money and awareness for the food bank.
“The first observation I made about Jay was that he was very calm,” Muldoon says. “And with that calmness was a very big aura of confidence that he could physically accomplish this feat.”
One step at a time
Each day, Black woke up at 4:15 a.m. He went to the kitchen for an energizing shake, then took a hot shower and got ready to run another 26.2 miles.
But it wasn’t always easy.
Because he wasn’t racing, it took Black five to six hours to complete the distance each day. He usually ran outside but often had trouble finding an open road to run on. He also suffered from a shin injury and a stress fracture, but it didn’t stop him.
“I kind of look at my body as an engine,” he says. “Unless doctors say you can’t go any further, then we’re going to get to the finish line.”
When he first told his friends that he would complete 26 marathons in 26 days, they had mixed reactions.
“Some of my friends said, ‘You are nuts. How is your body going to handle it?’ And then I told them why I was doing it,” he says. “They would start off dumbfounded, but they would always walk away inspired.”
Even though Black was confident, he sometimes worried he might not be able to cross the finish line. If he got seriously injured, there was no other plan than to quit. But all doubts vanished when Black ran along the Las Vegas Strip.
“We ran into a lot of homeless people downtown, and once you tell them what you’re doing, they get a little sparkle in their eye,” he says. “And they thank you. That’s probably one of the most gratifying parts of this whole thing — knowing that I have an opportunity to tell these people that we haven’t forgotten about them.”
The finish line
Black set out with a mission to raise both financial donations and nonperishable food items for the food bank.
Muldoon says he didn’t want to peg Black’s efforts to a specific dollar amount. In fact, Muldoon hasn’t even kept track of the amount of money raised during the challenge.
“If I am focused on just the dollar amount, then I’m missing the purpose of exactly what he’s trying to accomplish here,” he says.
Black started with a goal of $4,000. He raised a total of $4,024. All of his proceeds will go to the Three Square Food Bank. Because of the food bank’s efficiencies, Muldoon says each dollar can be turned into three meals.
To commemorate his achievement, the Clark County Board of Commissioners in Nevada declared December 23, 2013, Jayson Black Day.
“For the first time in my life, I feel truly blessed. It’s not really a sense of relief, it’s a sense of accomplishment,” Black said after finishing. “We don’t have any specific plans yet, but we’ll wrap up 2013 with a big bow and then we’ll get a team together and start thinking about next year.”
Though Black’s mission came to an end Monday, he wants people to know they can make a positive contribution in their own communities no matter where they are located.
“You don’t have to run 26 marathons in 26 days to make someone smile,” he says. “You don’t have to do crazy epic stuff. Any one of us can make a difference.”
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