Ernest Schumacher remembers people dying in the streets of Germany.
The year was 1947, and he and his family were living in post-World War II Germany as that country was being ravaged by a potato crop failure.
Schumacher, 80, recalls seeing people falling down, dying from hunger all around him, and he remembers what it was like for his own family to barely have enough to eat.
“I had to go to bed feeling hungry,” the Charlotte resident said Sunday afternoon as he prepared to participate in the 36th annual Charlotte CROP Hunger Walk. “If I can help people who need food, I do it,” he said.
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Schumacher was among thousands of attendees expected for this year’s walk, which is designed to fight hunger in the Charlotte region and around the world. Organizers were hoping to raise at least $360,000 from the event.
The roughly 4-mile route began at Independence Park and wound through Charlotte’s inner-city neighborhoods before ending back at the park.
Ericka Ellis-Stewart, director of the Charlotte walk, said she expected 5,000 to 7,000 walkers at this year’s event, which she said will raise money for a growing problem.
“Poverty overall is increasing in this community,” she said.
According to Charlotte CROP’s website, last year’s Charlotte event drew 5,200 walkers and raised more than $323,000. Ellis-Stewart said the Charlotte event is among 1,400 or so CROP walks held worldwide.
‘I know what it’s like’
Before the walk began, Mary Williams and four other family members gathered in Independence Park, where they took photos of themselves with a local television news reporter.
Williams, 84, of east Charlotte said it was her first CROP walk. The east Charlotte resident said she can relate to people struggling to feed themselves: In the 1950s, when she was living in New York, she fell on hard times and her young children ended up in a shelter.
“I know what it’s like to not have food to feed your children,” she said.
She said it saddens her that people are going hungry in “the richest country in the world.”
Ellis-Stewart said roughly 55,000 children in Mecklenburg County are at the federally established poverty level, which for a family of four means an annual income of about $24,000.
Another contributor to hunger is the many people who remain out of work years after the recent recession has ended, she said. Some who have jobs are not making a full-time wage or living wage, she said.
The Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill region’s unemployment rate increased in August to 7 percent from 6.8 percent in July, according to the latest figures. August’s rate is a percentage point lower than the August 2013 figure of 8 percent.
Charlotte still tops other walks
Organizers said Sunday that Charlotte’s event still draws more participants and raises more funds than any other CROP walk.
“Charlotte has the biggest heart of anywhere I know,” Barbara Thomas, a representative for Church World Service, which sponsors the CROP walks, told participants before Sunday’s walk began.
Not all the money raised stays in Charlotte, but 25 percent does. That money goes to Crisis Assistance Ministry, Loaves & Fishes and Second Harvest Food Bank.
Church World Service uses the rest worldwide to help people suffering from natural disasters and famine.
According to Charlotte CROP, the event has raised $7.5 million since the city’s first walk in 1978. Of that, $1.8 million has stayed in the community.