"Thank you for sharing your feet. God bless you."
With those words, Mary Catherine Hinds, CWS's Senior Field Director for the Southeast United States, bid good luck to the hundreds of Raleigh, NC, residents who were about to begin the three-mile trek of this year's Raleigh CROP Hunger Walk.
I'm no stranger to CROP Hunger Walks. I first learned of them years ago when I was a young newspaper reporter in southern Minnesota. Since then, I have participated in several Walks connected with our offices here in New York City.
But it was last Sunday's Walk in Raleigh, N.C. where I really got to see what a CROP Hunger Walk means to a community.
It means a lot, as I learned, talking to walk participants, community members and staffers of social service agencies which receive some of the proceeds of the walk.
A number of things impressed me – aside from the generosity and kindness of people in Raleigh. One was how much people of all ages look forward to the event and make it their own. Their ranks include Connie Hudson, 80, a long-time walker and volunteer who believes the continued strength and endurance of the CROP Hunger Walks in NC is due to ongoing involvement by churches, which have made the fight against hunger part of their duty and call.
"It's the major part of the religion – to help the poor. It's what Christ told us to do," this life-long Presbyterian (and daughter of missionaries) told me.
On the younger scale, I talked to a number of younger people who were eager to embrace the cause of fighting hunger as their special project. Twelve-year-old Maurice Clarke, for example, got it right (and brought the issue down to the essentials) when he said, "Fighting hunger saves lives. This saves lives."
Similarly, Kelly Rappl, program assistant to Catholic Parish Outreach, one of the Walk-supported agencies, noted the issue of food and hunger come to the forefront as a community concern because it is "an immediate need. It's the most elemental need. Without food, how do you function?"
Like others I spoke to, Rappl – aside from thanking CWS – knows that it is important, as she put it, "to feed people everywhere in the world. But it's also important to your neighbor. Hunger is everywhere."
"There are stories of hunger everywhere – Europe, Africa, here. People need to be reminded of that." She added: "Isn't it good to be part of a Walk where it helps your neighbor as well as people elsewhere in the world?"
What Rappl said pointed to something important – the need to be aware of hunger everywhere, including our backyards. As someone who has traveled extensively in the world for CWS and is beginning a book project on global hunger, it is striking not how the pressing the issue of hunger is in the United States, but how pressing it is becoming as an issue of concern.
Mary Catherine Hinds believes one reason the CROP Hunger Walks are popular in the North Carolina is because of the growing problems of poverty and hunger in the state. And indeed, among the most popular Walks in North Carolina are ones in areas where poverty is growing.
"It must be because people feel connected (to the issue)," she said.
It is sad that the problems are worsening, but heartening that so many are, as Mary Catherine put it, "sharing their feet." God bless them, indeed.
Chris Herlinger is CWS's senior writer.