Encouraged by pompom-waving cheerleaders and sports mascots Sir Purr and Hugo the Hornet, about 4,000 people took a stand against hunger in Charlotte and around the world Sunday by walking nearly four miles and raising an estimated $300,000.
Proceeds from Charlotte’s 37th annual CROP Hunger Walk, still the largest and most generous of the country’s 1,300 CROP walks, will go to three local agencies – Loaves & Fishes, Crisis Assistance Ministry and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina –as well as to global projects to feed hungry people and help refugees and others in need.
Sunday’s walk, held under Carolina blue skies, drew both old-timers and newcomers.
Lloyd Lancaster had walked in 33 previous CROP Walks and wasn’t about to miss his 34th Sunday, even after a recent fall meant the 89-year-old Charlottean would have to wear a cervical collar around his neck. So three of his 50-something children drove in from Winston-Salem, Concord and Spartanburg, S.C., to walk alongside him.
“It shows how dedicated, persistent and stubborn he is,” said son Harry Lancaster.
Over the years, the elder Lancaster has personally raised $214,000 from donors supporting his CROP walking – including $13,000 in 2014.
For Sunday’s walk, he turned in pledges and checks totaling $5,000 – “I’m lazy this year” – but that didn’t count the 20 or so fellow members of St. Stephen United Methodist Church who gave him checks earlier in the day.
His reason for walking year after year? “I’ve never been hungry, but you see pictures of people who are starving,” said the cane-wielding Lancaster, who sold appliances for General Electric before retirement. “I think everybody has compassion.”
His daughter, Sarah Lancaster, put it this way: “It’s just a good example of how to live your life. He follows through on what he believes in.”
Participating in their first CROP Walk on Sunday were Lisa MacDonald and her wife, Becky Stamler, who joined 20 or so other members of Temple Beth El, a Reform Jewish congregation.
“I’m really here because I wanted to be a part of a community,” said MacDonald. “And for us, it’s a mitzvah (Hebrew for commandment of God) to try to heal the world.”
Added Stamler, surveying the scene of thousands lining up to walk: “It takes a lot of people to make a big difference.”
Money for cheese, eggs and yogurt
Organizing the CROP Walks in Charlotte and around the country is Church World Service, a cooperative ministry of 37 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican congregations. And traditionally, houses of worship supply many of the walkers and much of the financial support.
That was true again Sunday, as various congregations from different faiths – including Christ Lutheran, Friendship Missionary Baptist, St. Peter Catholic, St. John’s Baptist, Temple Israel, the Muslim American Society, the Islamic Community Center of South Charlotte and Temple Bel El – walked together, holding up signs identifying their church, synagogue or mosque.
“We are very community-minded, and (eradicating) hunger is one of our issues,” said Patrena Rice, coordinator of hundreds of walkers from her church, Friendship Missionary Baptist. “I love that (CROP Walk) gets folks together. It’s an opportunity for commitment and fellowship.”
Among houses of worship, Christ Lutheran was expected to raise the most money this year – about $71,000. The bulk of that will come from donors backing Rick Herberg, a church member and Charlotte financial consultant whose goal going into Sunday was $55,000 – $2,000 more than he raised last year.
“It’s God’s money, and I tell my donors that,” said Herberg, who walked in his 33rd consecutive CROP Walk on Sunday. “Our Lord and Savior said, ‘I was hungry and you fed me. ... Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.’ Every five seconds around the world, a child is dying of a hunger-related cause. When a child dies, God cries.”
One-fourth of what was raised Sunday will stay in Charlotte to help those who need food or aid in paying rent or utility bills.
Last year, Loaves & Fishes, Crisis Assistance Ministry and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina each got $25,000 from the CROP Walk.
This annual contribution “means we have nutritious food to give to families,” said Beverly Howard, who heads Loaves & Fishes. “We’ll spend every penny on perishables like cheese and eggs. This’ll put yogurt in some little tummies next summer and put grilled cheese sandwiches on family tables all winter.”
Over its 37 years, CROP Walks have donated a total of more than $2 million to the agencies.
‘It’s a multi-generational thing’
The number of walkers and the amounts raised fluctuate each year. Organizers say both go up during bad economic times, when there is news about people going hungry. But the CROP Hunger Walk has become a signature event in Charlotte spanning decades.
Howard said she did the CROP Walk in 1988 with her then-10-year-old son. Last year, she walked with her son’s 10-year-old daughter.
Kathy Helms of Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina remembers being eight months pregnant when she did the Walk in October 1992. The next year, she was back, pushing a stroller that held daughter Lauren, who wore a CROP Walk bib.
“It’s a multi-generational thing,” Howard said of the CROP Walk.
On Sunday, walkers – some wearing T-shirts reading “Zero Hunger” – got a send-off from Queens University of Charlotte cheerleaders chanting “Let’s Go CROP Walk,” as well as from ringing bells at nearby St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and sirens from Charlotte Fire Department Station 1.
They also heard from the Rev. John McCullough, the New York-based president and CEO of Church World Service, who gave a prayer, saluted Charlotte’s hospitality and walked the whole 3.6-mile route.
In an interview with the Observer, McCullough also said Charlotte has proved itself over many years to be a community that stands out for its caring and willingness to give.
“Historically the people of Charlotte have this innate awareness of the needs of others – both locally and beyond,” he said. “And where their energies and resources permit, they’re very generous in responding.”