Around 400 walkers will set out on a 6-mile trek on Sunday as part of a walkathon called the CROP Hunger Walk. The event, which is now in its 32nd year, has raised $1.1 million to feed hungry people, resettle refugees, provide clean water to Third World people and advocate for the poor.

What is striking about the event is how local it is in many ways. Last year, 26 congregations in Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest raised $72,000. The chair of the planning team, Joanne Despotes, lives in Forest Park, as do two other team members. Three Forest Park Congregations — St. Bernardine, Hope Tabernacle and St. Paul Thai Lutheran — will have members walking.

Of the $72,000 raised last year, 25%, or $18,000, remained in our area, with $2,000 going to the Forest Park Food Pantry and the same amount to West Suburban PADS.

Twenty-one Forest Park businesses have given generously as of last Friday. Of those, 19 were mom-and-pop, locally owned businesses. This year, I’ve already received $1,370 in donations from businesses located in town. Of those only three were chain franchises, and those three were owned by local people.

Only one or two of those 19 have anything close to “deep pockets.” Most are making it, but none are going to be listed on the S&P 500 anytime soon. When I enter locally owned stores, I am greeted by name, often by the owners themselves. When I go into franchised stores to solicit donations, most of the time I’m given a two-page application and told to send it to corporate headquarters. One such HQ was located in Cincinnati. Needless to say, I never got a response.

Last year, I went into a one-of-a-kind store on Madison Street — the kind of business that makes our main street so unique — and the owner apologetically told me that business was way down and she couldn’t give anything. What impressed me is that because we’ve known each other for several years and have a good relationship, she felt compelled to explain to me why she couldn’t give anything.

That’s part of the meaning and value of doing things locally. CROP has credibility. In a way, we are a franchise, but we’ve been around for 32 years, and all our volunteers live in the area. Local business people are invested in this town and most either live here or spend more waking hours here than at home. Local business people give a huge amount, percentage-wise, of their income to local causes, not to mention their volunteer hours and in-kind gifts.

It’s all about relationships. When you take the el to the Loop to shop in the big stores or drive out to Oak Brook, sales people don’t greet you by name, and the owners of Macy’s probably don’t even know where Forest Park is, let alone sponsor a Little League team here or donate to local fundraisers.

Cops have been getting a lot of negative press lately. Not so in Forest Park. Chief Ryan told me that in the 12 years he’s been with the FPPD, not one officer has moved to another town, even though they could earn significantly more money in some other departments. It’s in large part because of relationships, within the department but also with many of the residents. That’s a huge plus for our town, and it exists because, like many businesses here, Chief Ryan, Deputy Chief Aftanas and the officers in the department get it — “it” being relationships.

Sometimes I’ll be driving around the city or the ‘burbs and yearn for an iced coffee or an ice cream cone, but I’ll defer gratification long enough to pick up my caffeine at Counter Coffee or get a chocolate chip ice cream cone at Brown Cow. My self-discipline gets rewarded with quality products but also with the knowledge that, in small ways, I’m helping sustain the village that sustains me.

We’re hoping to raise $80,000 this year on the CROP Walk. Of that total, 75% will go overseas to help refugees from wars in the Middle East simply survive in camps or to help the victims of the recent earthquake in Nepal. Needs in many places around the world are often greater than ours at home. We don’t have children starving around here. Our health problems tend more toward obesity than not having enough calories.

Nevertheless, we’ve followed the CROP guideline of investing 25% of what we raise in agencies around here. Because we have needy people right in our own backyard. 

Because, if it takes a village to raise a child, it’s worth investing in our villages.