Amid growing economic hardship and uncertainty about Wachovia and the United Way, 7,000 CROP Walkers took to Charlotte's inner city streets Sunday to raise money for local agencies reporting long lines of people looking for help.
Organizers of the 30th annual Charlotte walk against hunger, which was again the largest of 2,000 such CROP Walks around the country, said they expected to meet their goal of $300,000. That's $20,000 more than last year's total. The number of walkers was up, too – by 2,000.
About 75 percent of the amount raised will go to alleviate hunger around the world. But the rest will stay in Charlotte and be distributed to three agencies. One of them, Crisis Assistance Ministry, has seen a 40 percent jump in the number of people who line up outside their agency every morning looking for help in paying their rent or utilities. For August, the most recent statistics available, 628 people in line had to be turned away.
The other two agencies that will get money: Loaves & Fishes, a network of food pantries, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.
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These and other nonprofits are seeing a rise in the number seeking help even as they worry about a possible drop in corporate giving with the purchase of Wachovia and the controversy surrounding CEO compensation at United Way.
All these scary economic signs made Sunday's event perhaps the “most important” one since it started in 1978, said former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, who led the walk and a big delegation from his church, Friendship Missionary Baptist.
“We'll probably have more families fall into the category of needing the services these local groups will offer,” he said. “I think people are going to think a lot more about what we need to do to be good neighbors.”
Walkers from 150 churches and organizations made the 6.2-mile CROP (Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty) Hunger Walk.
Many of the walkers were kids. J.P. Flynn, 12, a youth group member at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian, held up a banner shaped as a foot: “Stomp out hunger,” it read.
Harrison Luttman, 15, and Kyle Cicenia, 16 – both members of Advent Lutheran – tossed and kicked a football as they walked along.
And Jon Godsey, 14, who has never walked because of his cerebral palsy, made the miles in his wheelchair.
“I'm doing it to fight world hunger,” said Godsey, one of about 150 members of Matthews United Methodist to participate.
Though temperatures reached into the 70s Sunday afternoon, Brannon Burroughs, 42, made the walk dressed as Moses, complete with robes, a fake flowing beard – and a straw cowboy hat.
A member of Living Savior Lutheran, Burroughs said he wanted to help the world's hungry and those hurting in Charlotte.
“There are a lot of people here who are in despair.”