A Marathoner Runs the Race Against COVID-19

“This is not even a marathon. This is an ultra-marathon!” said Joyce Leven, who heads up Family Service of Rhode Island’s Be Safe statewide distribution system of cleaning products, food and other necessities to low-income seniors, families and individuals.

She should know—she’s run almost ten marathons, including the Boston Marathon and one in Lisbon, Portugal. She was hoping to run in Scotland later this year, but that’s unlikely due to COVID-19.

Nonetheless, she’s in training, which means running four to six miles four days during the week and longer distances on weekends. But the only event on her calendar these days is the race against Covid-19.

Like a marathon, “you have to be prepped,” know where you’re going, have a goal, and finish at an end time, she said. The result: as many as 160 households get a Be Safe kit each day to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to address its effects. The kits, made possible through private grants and donations, include hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, tissue, paper towels, cleaners, food and more.

A day on the job these days for Joyce means back-breaking work unloading products from trucks at a Family Service of Rhode Island building in Providence, preparing the Be Safe kits, and loading them into Be Safe delivery vehicles, which head out to needy families across the state. That means Warwick, Woonsocket, Cumberland, East Providence and even as far away from the Providence headquarters as Newport and Westerly.

It’s tiring but fulfilling. “What we’re doing is essential. Very necessary.” She credits her team and staff across the agency for working together “to wrap around the community” in this time of need.

Despite all the physical labor she’s doing during the workday, she has the energy to hit the streets in her off hours. “My favorite thing is running, because it’s social but individual.” Her passion for the sport led to her being a founding board member of Girls on the Run, which encourages girls to engage in physical activity to build life skills.

How long this “ultra-marathon” will be is anybody’s guess, but Rhode Island is fortunate to have this experienced distance runner helping it cross the finish line.