Saturday, May 3, 2014

CROP Walk 2014 a Success

St. Thomas More Parish Donates Over $2600

I had an opportunity to participate in the CROP Walk in Kalamazoo on Sunday, April 27. I was among 400 people from area churches who raised funds for the hungry in this annual Church World Service event. As I collected over $2600 from parishioners at St. Thomas More Parish after each of the four Masses, I began to see the walk not only as a fundraiser to help the hungry, but as a spiritual endeavor, specifically, a pilgrimage.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a pilgrimage is a “journey to a shrine or other sacred place undertaken to gain divine aid, as an act of thanksgiving or penance, or to demonstrate devotion.” Rebecca Solnit in her book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking, says that there are three graces the pilgrimage can evoke that lead to transformation: (1) community; (2) health and healing; and (3) suffering. The American form of pilgrimage has also included fundraising for various causes as a practical way of directly doing something for others. Since I decided that I was on a pilgrimage during the the five-mile CROP Walk, I reflected on what it meant to me and how it transformed me.

First, as a representative of the parish, I felt I was helping parishioners remain conscious of the presence of hunger in our country, our world, and in our local community. Since not everyone wants or can go on the walk, my participation allowed more people to participate in the cause through their donations. As a result, I felt trusted to collect parishioners' money, send it to CROP, and to remain true to my pledge to complete the five-mile walk. Trust is an essential part of a strong and stable community.

In a community people rely on one another to fulfill all the necessary tasks that they cannot always do themselves. In this way the mission and purpose of the community endures. Feeding the hungry is one of the things Jesus charges us to do in the Beatitudes. Through my walk and parishioners' donations, we were ministering to God's people.

Since 1947 the CROP Hunger Walk has helped to provide food, water, and other resources (seeds, tools, wells, water systems, technical training, micro-enterprise loans) that empower people all over the world to meet their own needs and to identify their own development priorities. In addition, because each local CROP Hunger Walk can choose to return up to 25 percent of the funds it raises to hunger-fighting programs in its own community, parishioners' donations helped the following Kalamazoo organizations:
Community on my pilgrimage was manifested in other ways. By walking through one of Kalamazoo's poor communities (the Northside Neighborhood), I become more aware of the signs of hunger: empty alcohol bottles, broken glass, unkempt homes and streets, the presence of police cars, worn out houses and streets, vacant lots full of weeds. Hunger was also evident through some of the people we saw on the walk; they were extremely overweight because they must rely on cheap fast food that lacks nutritional quality and packs hundreds of nonessential calories into each of its meals. Thus, poverty in our city became more visible to me because I was in its midst instead of whizzing past it in my car unnoticed.

Walking also provided an opportunity to interact with both the participants on the walk and the people from the neighborhood. My fellow walkers and I caught up on news, helped each other cross the streets safely, and provided congenial fellowship. We were all aware of our cause and we were working on it together. This was very satisfying. Equally satisfying was the opportunity to interact with some of the people in the neighborhood for whom we were undoubtedly walking. We exchanged smiles and waves as we passed by, some of them joined the walk for a time while others talked with us. In other words, we were walking among the poor and perceiving our community more broadly than we usually do. This opened up the possibility for transformation.

Transformation came to me in different ways. There is no doubt that the walk was a healthy, physical thing to do. I felt good being outside in the fresh air, and I felt good doing Jesus' work. While I realize that I'm not eradicating hunger, I'm conscious that I'm at least doing something about hunger rather than nothing—and giving parishioners the opportunity to do something as well through their donations. This thought was empowering because I came to realize that I could not only walk for those less fortunate than I was, but we could together help the poor in our community. We as church people were giving of ourselves, ministering to others, and witnessing to the Church for a very important cause that we don't often encounter. This also stirs up the need to know more about hunger, so here are some facts about hunger in America (
  1. 1 in 6 people in America face hunger.
  2. Households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children in 2011. 20.6 percent vs. 12.2 percent.
  3. Food insecurity exists in every county in America. In 2011, 17.9 million households were food insecure.
  4. 50.1 million Americans struggle to put food on the table.
  5. In the US, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of food, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty.
  6. More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger
    • Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3.
  7. Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast and only 10 percent have access to summer feeding sites.
  8. For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs.
  9. 1 in 7 people are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly half of them are children.
  10. 40 percent of food is thrown out in the US every year, or about $165 billion worth. All of this uneaten food could feed 25 million Americans.
  11. These seven states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.7%):
    • Mississippi (19.2%)
    • Texas (18.5%)
    • Arkansas (19.2%)
    • Alabama (17.4%)
    • Georgia (17.4%)
    • Florida (16.2%)
    • North Carolina (17.1%)
Finally, the pilgrimage, although short in time and distance, involved a certain amount of suffering just as it is supposed to represent Jesus' walk to Calvary. I am used to walking three miles at a time, however, the last mile of my five-mile goal proved to be more of a challenge than I expected. My muscles from the waist down ached, and that last half mile especially made me doubt my ability to complete my goal. Thankfully, my feet didn't hurt, and the weather was cooperative, nevertheless, I felt the need to press on because I gave parishioners my word that I would walk five miles. During that last half mile I realized I could not totally act on my own power. I was too tired for that. Instead, I asked God to help me finish—and God delivered. This is a new approach to faith that I learned over Lent and was now putting into practice on my pilgrimage. Really, it is very simple: whenever I need something, anything, I can ask God for help. The only catch is that I must have faith that God will deliver. An extension of this belief is that as a community we don't have to do everything all by ourselves, we have God and each other to support and inspire us to get a job done. As one who typically tries to do everything myself, this small act of faith proved to be a great revelation, and it was through the pilgrimage that I came to see and to practice my faith in a new, more spiritual way.

Walking for CROP has made me more aware of the hunger that exists in my own local community as well as throughout my country, and it motivates me to do something about it. My community has also been broadened to include the hungry in my prayers, and to feel more responsible for them. This gets me thinking about what can be done to alleviate hunger—and to have the faith that it can be done, with others.

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