Metro Mayor Runs More Than 300 Miles to Help Food Pantry

JOHNSTON, Iowa  --  As the mayor of Johnston, Paula Dierenfeld is used to running for office, but lately it's a different kind of campaign gaining attention.

"I can hardly go anywhere that somebody doesn't say, 'Okay, how many miles have you done? How many miles do you have left?'" she said.

It's becoming a tradition in December. She challenges the community to donate to the Johnston Partnership's food pantry. For every bag of food or $10 donation during the month, she will run a mile, starting over the New Year holiday.

The first year, she ran 31 miles over New Year's weekend. Last year, she finished 191 miles before Martin Luther King Junior Day. "That's 10 miles a day," she said.

This year, the community really stepped up, forcing her to log 316 miles before Valentine's Day.  "I try to run as smart as I can. I run four miles in the morning, six at night, spread it out longer on the weekends, shorter on the week days,” she said.

Johnston Partnership Program Director Andrea Cook said, "Mayor Paula is one of our big champions, and we love it."

The food pantry serves about 200 families a month in Johnston. The need has grown about 20% a year the last three years. The pantry depends on donations to meet demand. Dierenfeld's challenge brought in $3,200 worth of food in December.

"That is a huge, huge gift for us. Every family, every person who comes through that door, giving them the options they need to be able to make it through the month," said Cook.

The mayor's challenge also brings awareness to the need in the community, and she shows no signs of slowing down. "Our goal next year might be to raise enough food or $10 donations to get to St. Patrick's Day next year, and if this goes on long enough, we may have to extend it clear to the 4th of July," Dierenfeld said.

The challenge has also helped motivate her to keep up her running mileage. She is registered to run the New York City half marathon in March.