As a way to honor his deceased son’s passion for feeding the hungry, Master Sgt. Joel Cortes is leading a team of local Marines participating in Ironman 70.3 endurance challenges Oct. 22 to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank.

Cortes, who was recently transferred from his job as the band master for the Marine Corps Band New Orleans, will complete his half-Ironman in Miami, while Victor Danish and Christopher Calamari, his colleagues in the band, will participate in the Ochsner Ironman 70.3 in New Orleans. 

They are using their participation to raise money for Second Harvest Food Bank with a combined goal of $5,000 in honor of Jovany Cortes, a Belle Chasse High School wrestler who died in February of a staph infection.

“Jovany and I were driving in downtown New Orleans last year, and he saw some homeless people under the bridge nearby,” Cortes said. “He said, ‘Hey Pops, we need to come and bring these people some food.’ I thought that was kind of him. He loved God in his heart, but we never got to go back to it.”

After Jovany's death, Cortes said he remembered the conversation and decided to carry out his son’s wish to help others.

“I learned a very valuable lesson from my son,” said Cortes, who had been stationed in Belle Chasse and is now stationed in West Palm Beach, Florida. “We don’t have to help everyone. We can help one person at a time.”

His son attended Belle Chasse High for only about five months, but he had an impact. “In the short time he was there, he was able to touch many lives,” Cortes said. “We had no idea how many people were really drawn to him. It was a devastation to everyone.”

Cortes said for the Half-Ironman, he will wear Belle Chasse’s colors of red and black, and he will have the school mascot, a cardinal, and his son’s signature on his racing shirt.

His son, who decided to go to Belle Chasse High because he wanted to participate in athletics, had lived in Belle Chasse with his father; stepmother, Karla; and two siblings, Isabella and Jacob.

“We are very honored to be the recipient of Master Sgt. Cortes and his colleagues’ efforts,” Second Harvest President Natalie Jayroe said. “We are deeply sorry for the tragedy that the Cortes family faced, and we are in awe of how he turned that personal tragedy into an opportunity to help so many people and to feed so many people.

"We hope to help honor Jovany’s memory by using this generous donation to feed more hungry people in our area.”

Jayroe said the mission of Second Harvest, founded in 1982, has always been to fight hunger. “Whether it is a single child going to school hungry or an entire community facing hunger after a disaster, Second Harvest is the place where the community comes together to fight the disaster of hunger and fabulous, wonderful volunteers are the way we can be successful.”

Because Second Harvest’s efforts include giving assistance to recent hurricane victims in areas such as Puerto Rico where Cortes is from and where most of his family still lives, he said it makes his fundraiser even more meaningful.

To donate to the fundraising efforts in honor of Jovany, visit Cortes’ fundraising page at visit www.no-hunger.org/joelcortes or call Second Harvest at (504) 734-1322.