I give time and money to the CROP Hunger Walk every year partly because I appreciate that the effort made by those who make it happen is more like that of a marathon runner than a sprinter.
I myself am on the CROP planning team and what impresses me is that year after year, whether hunger is in the news or not, those who organize and those who walk are faithful to the task. This area’s CROP Walk is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Many fundraisers, in contrast, are like a sprint. $20 million has already been raised to aid those devastated by the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and that’s great of course. Americans responded in the same way following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the earthquake in Haiti in 2008 and the tsunami in Japan last year. When I was in Bangkok last year I even saw people from a Thai service organization collecting money at a mall for the victims of Hurricane Sandy!
It’s all good, but like in a sprint, there’s a burst of energy, and then in a short time it’s over. The problem of hunger, even here at home, however won’t be ended by a one time burst of energy and compassion. It’s an ongoing challenge which requires the commitment of a marathon runner. For example, Karen Dylewski, the director of our community center said that the food pantry in the center serves 75-80 people a month “with new faces coming in all the time,” and at Thanksgiving they delivered 150 dinners to Forest Park residents.
Although West Suburban PADS is continuously transitioning people from being homeless to living in their own home, the shelter I volunteer at is full to capacity every time I’m there, and the guests really appreciate the meal my church cooks for them. PADS served a total of 866 people who were homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness in west Cook County.
Marathon runners require a different mentality and spirituality than sprinters do. They have to defer gratification. The challenge is daunting. Persistence, keeping an eye on the prize and discipline trump sudden bursts of energy and emotion.
That’s how the organizers of the CROP Walk approach the challenge of feeding hungry people. One step at a time. One annual check of $2000 to the Forest Park Food Pantry at a time. One well installed in Rwanda at a time to allow villagers to have access to clean water.
At first glance, the statistics regarding the CROP Walk are impressive. Last year 400 walkers raised $60,000, $15,500 of that went to local efforts to combat hunger, and that put the total raised by our event over the years to over $1 million. .
At the same time, the group of volunteers who organize the Walk know full well that the money raised is a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous need, yet they keep at it. That’s what impresses me the most, and it has to do with a term I recently heard for the first time, well informed futility syndrome.
The term was coined in 1973 by a psychologist named Gerhart Wiebe who was studying how Americans were responding to the news they saw almost every evening about the Vietnam War. He found that the more they learned about the devastation caused by the conflict and complexity of the issues involved, the more paralyzed they felt by a sense of futility.
There’s a story about a man walking along a beach at low tide who comes upon a boy throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean. When he came up to the lad he said, “You’ll never save all of them.” The boy bent over, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the water and declared, “I saved that one!”
Perhaps the man was afflicted with the well informed futility syndrome. In contrast, those who serve on the CROP planning team and those who walk year after year, like the boy in the story, don’t seem to be daunted by the enormity of the task. They seem to have let go of grandiose illusions about saving the world, accept the reality that they are limited mortals and go after the problem one starfish, one step at a time.