6 marathons + 6 days = $55,000 to aid the needy

Jesse Hollett
Posted 6/7/17

JACKSONVILLE – Jogging along U.S. Highway 90 from Tallahassee to Jacksonville leaves a great deal of time to meditate, especially when you’re doing it for a cause.

Whenever a logging truck …

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6 marathons + 6 days = $55,000 to aid the needy

Posted

JACKSONVILLE – Jogging along U.S. Highway 90 from Tallahassee to Jacksonville leaves a great deal of time to meditate, especially when you’re doing it for a cause.

Whenever a logging truck would pass by 49-year-old Mike Freed while he ran alongside oncoming traffic, the vehicle’s headwind would hit him like a wave. It happened so often that, eventually, he began to run along the other side of the road.

There, whenever massive log haulers rushed passed him, tail winds would push him forward.

He connected the innocent happening to the cause he was running for – fundraising and awareness underfunded, pro-bono civil legal aid provided by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, which serves residents of Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. He began the trek on May 28 and wrapped up in the rain on June 2 in Jacksonville.

“I would get a nice push to help me along, and that’s kind of what legal help does, it pulls you along so someone could get a head start dealing with a foreclosure or dealing with an abusive person or the other headwinds they deal with in their life,” Freed said. “We all get tailwinds.”

“There was a lot of time to think when you’re running along [Highway] 90, and a variety of metaphors occurred to me,” he said. “That was one that was very powerful to me.”

Between May 28 and June 2, Freed – a business litigation attorney – jogged 160 miles from the Supreme Court building in Tallahassee to Jacksonville, stopping at every court along the way in part of a self-devised, six-legged marathon.

By the time he crossed the finish line in front of the Jacksonville Courthouse on June 2, Freed had already met his goal of raising $50,000 in donations.

By June 6, the donations totaled more than $55,000.

“Mike Freed is a beast,” said JALA President James Kowalski Jr. “He chanced into this idea and actually told me on a street corner a couple months back when we were walking downtown and I thought it was amazing idea.”

Freed began training for the fundraiser a little over a year ago. He had no prior marathon experience before his nearly weeklong journey across Florida, yet still escaped with no injuries.

Florida is one of three states in the country that does not allocate money at a state level for civil legal aid. And each year, Florida’s 32 civil legal aid organizations have seen other revenue sources diminish significantly.

Available funding from The Florida Bar Foundation fell 77.2 percent in 2015 from $33.9 million in 2010 to $7.7 million. Most funding for civil legal aid organizations in Florida comes through federal and local grants, the Legal Services Corporation of America, and donations from churches, non-profits and private citizens.

At the same time, federal funding for civil legal aid is set to be zeroed under President Donald Trump’s budget.

As funding runs dry, the poverty rate in Florida has only increased.

“It’s the biggest challenge facing First Coast residents – access to the third branch of government,” Kowalski said. “We simply do not meet the need. It’s a fact more than a challenge. So for much of the First Coast area, there simply are zero family law options, zero general immigration options for low income individuals … and Mike’s work helps us in bridging some of those gaps.”

JALA accepts cases from individuals who are 125 percent of and below the poverty line, but Kowalski added that for individuals who are just slightly above that mark fall into an area where no legal help is available.

Last year, JALA completed more than 5,500 cases with a little fewer than 30 full-time attorneys and unpaid help from community lawyers such as Freed.

Two of those attorneys operate in Clay County out of the Clay County Courthouse.

“There are a lot more people that have a need that I can’t possibly serve and I was kind of overwhelmed with how difficult it could be to put someone’s life back in order,” Freed said. “We have an increasing separation of haves and have nots in our society, and one small way we can bridge that gap is by making sure that when people have legal problems they have access to someone who can help them.”

Freed said that that realization alone was one of the main reasons he began assisting JALA and ultimately decided to hold the fundraiser.

He hopes that, in this highly contentious political climate, that instead of complaining and lazing around on the couch, that people would go and become active in the organizations they care about and hold fundraisers to support the causes they believe are just.

Kowalski said even if the Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature continue to refuse to fund these services, he’s confident those who care will continue to step up and run the extra mile.

“Fundraisers are some general funding that we can use to help meet the need – with or without the governor’s help,” he said.

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