A peanut butter mile: South Jersey woman running to raise awareness

How long will it take to tally 500 peanut butter miles? How about 1,000? More to the point, what is a peanut butter mile?

Kristen Stehm of Cinnaminson is on a quest to run 50 half-marathons, one in each of the United States. Her mission is to raise awareness about hunger in New Jersey and to secure donations for The Food Bank of South Jersey, where she volunteers. Many of those donations will be in the form of jars of peanut butter pledged for every mile she jogs along the way.

“I first became involved with the Food Bank about two years ago,” said Stehm. “I don’t think people understand that, yes, in this area, in South Jersey, there are people who are going hungry,” she said.

According to Rutgers Against Hunger, a university-wide initiative working to address the issues of hunger across New Jersey, more than 380,000 households in the state currently report experiencing food hardship.

Along with her family, one of Stehm’s tasks when volunteering at the food bank was to unpack huge boxes of donations and put them on the shelves in the food bank’s warehouse. “One day we spent a few hours unpacking and shelving just cases of peanut butter,” said Stehm. “When we went back to work another shift a couple of days later, it was all gone,” she said.

On another day volunteering at the food bank, Stehm and her sons, James and Robert, now 10 and 12 years old, were preparing the weekend packages given to school kids on Fridays so they could have food over the weekend. The experience gave them another dose of reality. Many families don’t have a refrigerator full of fresh food or cabinets full of meal ingredients in cans and boxes. They strongly rely on the Food Bank of South Jersey to supply nutrition for their kids. The food banks, in turn, strongly rely on donations from supporters.

So how does Stehm’s commitment to run 50 half-marathons fit in to this story?

Stehm took up running about three years ago in an effort to shed some pounds. She discovered that she was much more dedicated to the physical exercise if there was a goal in front of her. She started out with the relatively small step of making it all the way around the track at a nearby park, less than a mile. From there, Stehm pushed herself to run further, leading to a 13-mile half-marathon and then a 26.2 mile full marathon.

Soon after completing the marathon, Stehm realized that without a goal it was tough to stay motivated. So, she came up with the goal of running a half-marathon in each state and, to make all those miles count for something more than herself, she added the food bank component. She now keeps herself in shape, stays motivated and also helps others by helping to increase contributions of food to the place that feeds her spirit. It’s a win-win-win situation, she says.

Since making the commitment in November 2011, Kristin has completed half-marathons in four states; New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina. Four more states have been added to the calendar including a run in New York later this month, followed by Virginia over Memorial Day weekend and Connecticut in June. She follows a schedule of running four days a week and cross-training one day a week, with two days off. Training used to be a chore but now Stehm says she enjoys it. “There’s no television on, there’s no phone ringing. It gives me time away,” she said.

To help with her fundraising efforts, March happens to be National Peanut Month. While for many, peanut butter evokes nostalgic images of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or peanut butter and apples as an after-school snack, it’s also used to fight hunger globally as a main ingredient in Plumpy’nut, a French-made, ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) successfully used for rapid, home-based mass treatment of malnutrition in famine situations.

You can help Stehm’s cause by making a donation of a jar of peanut butter at her family’s business, Stehm’s Auto Repair on Cinnaminson Avenue.

You can also help out the Food Bank of South Jersey with a monetary donation made online.

You can track Stehm’s progress as she continues her quest on her website.

 

Jersey Bites is a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey.  They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs, and anything else that tickles their taste buds.

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