Neighbors will take their sneakers to the sidewalk this weekend in the North Shore CROP Hunger Walk to raise funds and awareness for local and international hunger crises.
CROP Hunger Walks are sponsored each year by Church World Services and congregations in more than 2,000 communities across the United States. Church World Services began the Christian Rural Overseas Program (CROP) in 1947 so Midwest farmers could share their grain with hungry people in Europe and Asia. The organization has evolved past its acronym but still carries it in the name for historic reasons, according to the CWS website.
The North Shore has hosted Hunger Walks since the ’90s, and this year’s walk will begin and end at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Wilmette. It starts at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Though it may seem challenging to spot the connection between a 5-kilometer walk and international hunger relief, it’s there, said Helen Yarbrough, this year’s organizer of the North Shore CROP Hunger Walk.
“One of the slogans of the walk is that ‘we walk because they walk.’ It’s basically set up because so many people in other countries have to walk to get food or water or medical supplies,” she said.
Last year, between 30 and 40 North Shore CROP Hunger Walk teams raised more than $35,800, Yarbrough said.
Most of the money raised during the walk goes to charities supported by Church World Services. According to North Shore CROP Hunger Walk organizers, this money gets directed toward areas of crisis.
“The places change as the need changes,” said Ann Wagner, a longtime volunteer and member of the North Shore steering committee.
“There are so very, very many people that need some help in having shelter and food, and that’s what this does; it helps provide some shelter and some food,” said Wagner.
Twenty-five percent of the event’s proceeds benefit organizations in the communities that host the walk.
“The work we do locally benefits local people,” said Yarbrough.
Money raised from the Hunger Walk will help three Evanston agencies: The Interfaith Action Hospitality Center; Soup at Six at Hemenway United Methodist Church; and Hilda’s Place, part of Connections for the Homeless through the Lake Street Church.
Two Chicago agencies also will benefit from the walk proceeds, The ARK in the West Rogers Park neighborhood and A Just Harvest in East Rogers Park.
As of Monday, 34 congregations, schools, Scout troops and family groups are signed up to participate, as well as participants from the five agencies that will receive the local proceeds, Yarbrough said.
“I think a lot of other walks, like the cancer walk and the AIDS walk, have such intimate connections to people because they know people who are suffering,” Yarbrough said. “For a hunger walk, it’s a little bit farther removed in terms of trying to battle the whole problem of hunger.
“But when we relate it to, ‘you’ll be able to help out these five groups right here in your own community’ ... That adds a little more meaning and depth to it.”
Yet it’s not always just about giving back to the community. For at least one participant, the North Shore CROP Hunger Walk has a personal connection.
Walking for a friend
Jim Hutten learned in 2005 that he could honor his former New Trier Township High School colleague, Wagner’s husband, George, by participating in the walk.
George Wagner was a valued member of the steering committee, so when he died in 2005, it was the first and only year the North Shore CROP Hunger Walk was dedicated in someone’s memory.
“I was touched by this, and I thought that being a longtime friend, I was going to walk,” Hutten said. He has participated every year since and symbolically continues to join the Hunger Walk in honor of his friend.
Those who wish to get involved in the Hunger Walk still have time.
“They just show up (Sunday), bring whatever funds they have been able to raise and check in at the check-in table,” Yarbrough said.
For participants, the walk is a way to give back to the community, alleviate international hunger crises or fulfill a personal calling.
“We are called to care for our fellow human beings,” Yarbrough said.