Seven Marathons In Seven Days For Local Hunger Relief
Caleb Carmichael, cross country coach at the University of West Florida, notched over 180 miles last week. Carmichael’s goal was to complete seven marathons in seven days to raise awareness and money to help feed the community.
“Well, it kind of just came up to me after just seeing what we’re dealing with currently in the world, and just wanted to try to give back and help in some way,” said Carmichael.
Once a student competitor at UWF, the 35-year-old has been head coach for seven years. He also runs for fun.
It was natural to choose running as his platform, but he knew he had to go big to get traction.
“I needed something utterly insane or crazy,” said Carmichael of his idea to run seven marathons in seven days. “But, just something that people would be like, ‘Wow, is he really trying to do this,’ something like that.”
Inspiration for Carmichael’s seven marathons in seven days came from ultra-runner David Kilgore from Palm Bay, Florida.
“He was inspired to run for medical staff in New York, who needed shoes,” Carmichael said of Kilgore, who ran 100 miles in one day to raise money for medical workers up in New York.
Carmichael’s own effort began on April 6 and finished on Easter Sunday.
To switch things up over the seven days, he ran a few different routes that took him around the airport, to the UWF campus, downtown Pensacola, and rural Alabama, along the Perdido River.
Over that long haul, he was grateful for those family, friends and even strangers who joined him on the runs. His graduate assistant, Justin, went the full 26.2-mile-distance on two of the days.
When it came time to choose local organizations that could benefit from the money raised, the coach didn’t have to look far.
“When I reached out to our (UWF) administration here on campus, they mentioned there were still several, a couple hundred students still on campus and Argo Pantry was what they utilized a lot for feeding them and even giving toiletries, the basic things like toilet paper these days,” explained Carmichael.
“So, Argo Pantry is something we set upon because I wanted to help out. Obviously, I’m a coach here and wanted to help out our university.”
Carmichael also wanted to help the greater community, so he did a little research to help him choose another worthy organization. He noted an article in the Pensacola News Journal about challenges faced by Feeding the Gulf Coast, which experienced a decline in its volunteer force and an increase in need, due to COVID-19.
“They also needed money, because the amount of people who needed food now is up 500% in the last few weeks,” he said. “So, it was definitely a need, so whatever I could do to raise money for them, I thought was great.”
“We are seeing a much larger need since the coronavirus has come and made its way and people have been laid off. They need food; they need assistance,” said Aubrey Grier, community engagement coordinator for Feeding the Gulf Coast, formerly Bay Area Food Bank.
Feeding the Gulf Coast is part of the Feeding America network of food banks. It operates three branches - including one in Milton - that serve 24 counties from the Bay County, west to the Mississippi/Louisiana state line.
“So, we have seen an increased need on our ‘Find Help’ and ‘Find a Pantry’ tab on our website. We’ve seen over an 800% increase on those, which is, honestly, insane,” Grier said. “We’ve had a bunch of people clicking on that and trying to find food. We’re just trying to meet that need in all of our counties.”
Argo Pantry happens to be one of many partner agencies and receives food donations from Feeding the Gulf Coast.
Currently, the regional food bank is placing emphasis on its mobile pantries, which distributed over 100,000 pounds during the first week of April.
“They’re larger distributions, and we’ve made them to where they can be a drive-through model. So, it’s much safer for people to come in, and they just have to drive through,” said Grier, pointing out that individuals can remain in their cars while volunteers are loading up their food.
“At those distributions, they’re going to be getting things like fresh produce, frozen meat, shelf-stable items, as well, and usually some bread and pastries, too. So, it’s just kind of like a normal grocery store visit for them.”
According to Grier, contributions can go a long way. For every dollar that’s donated, Feeding the Gulf Coast can provide five meals.
When Carmichael set out on his seven marathons in seven days fundraising adventure, he set modest goals that were much lower than the $10,000 sought to help medical workers in New York.
“I didn’t think for a small area, trying to tap into the community would be something I could obtain, so I didn’t set a goal that high. I only wanted to try to raise $1,000 each for the groups I was raising money for,” Carmichael said.
How much money the marathons generated has yet to be determined, because even though the running is over, the fundraising is not.
“It’s still moving,” he said. “Obviously, the media interest has definitely helped a lot.”
As of Monday, Carmichael confirmed over $1,300 for Argo Pantry and nearly $4,000 for Feeding the Gulf Coast, which he described as “amazing.”
Carmichael set up a Feeding the Gulf Coast crowdfunding page, where individuals can still make a donation. Contributions to Argo Pantry can be made by visiting its ‘Wish List’ on Amazon or by designating Argo Pantry on the university’s Student Support webpage.
Overwhelmed by the response thus far, Carmichael hopes a bit more money will come in during the weeks to help with local hunger-relief efforts.
“It’s so great to be part of this community, who when times are tough they open up and go the extra mile and help,” he said. “Whether it takes me running 180 miles for that to happen or whether it was just somebody to say this is where you can donate to, I think it was awesome.”
Right now, his body is a bit beat up and sore, but Carmichael is already planning a 36-mile run in July, to mark his 36th birthday.