The 34th annual CROP Hunger Walk will be held this year on May 7. So far this spring, companies that do business in Forest Park have donated a total of $7,835 to the walk, officially known as Hunger Walkathon West, adding to the total of $1.4 million the walkathon has raised to feed hungry people since it began in this area in 1983.
“We’ve been really impressed by major corporate donors from Forest Park,” said Joanne Despotes, Forest Park resident and co-chair of the CROP Walk. “REM Staffing and Ferrara Candy Co. have given $1,000 or more and Ferrara also has a group participating in the walk.”
When asked why MacDaddy Salon makes a donation every year, Stephanie Neubauer, the owner, replied, “It’s a good cause. As a small business, I get so many requests for donations and it’s hard to choose which ones I can financially support. Hunger is something no one should have to experience. Food should not be a luxury and if a small donation on my behalf can feed someone, I’m happy to help.”
Dan Watts, president of Forest Park National Bank, said his community bank writes a check to CROP every year because he has a personal connection with the person who comes asking for a donation and because he has confidence that the money raised will be “used in the most efficient and worthy manner.”
The CROP website backs up that confidence. CROP is the fundraising arm of Church World Service (CWS), a coalition of 37 different denominations, which does everything from helping refugees start new lives to helping community leaders in Nicaragua pioneer innovative agricultural techniques.
“From seeds and tools, to wells and water systems, to technical training and micro-enterprise loans,” the website says, “the key is people working together to identify their own development priorities, their strengths and their needs, something CWS has learned through some 70 years of working in partnership around the world.”
Church World Service reports that only 4 percent of the money it receives from CROP walks is used for administration. Despotes explained that one of the reasons CWS can keep administrative costs so low is that almost all of the organizing for the fundraiser is done by volunteers.
Planning for the May 7 walk began in November by a 12-member planning team, 11 of whom are from either Forest Park or Oak Park. That team works with over 150 people on a contact list — police chiefs, 30 team leaders mainly in churches, business owners, etc. — to do the organizing needed to enable 300-plus walkers to raise the $100,000 which is the goal for this year.
Despotes explained that the CROP Hunger Walk has been around a long time and has a track record. The fundraising event has brought in a total of $1.4 million since it was started by local churches 34 years ago. In recent years, 25 percent of the money raised goes to local agencies. Last year, for example, of the $72,000 raised at the walk, which is always on the first Sunday of May, $18,000 went to seven organizations that feed hungry people in this area, such as the Forest Park Food Pantry and Housing Forward (formerly PADS).
This year the 25 percent of funding that remains local will be distributed to nine area agencies: Forest Park Food Pantry, Housing Forward, First Baptist Church Food Pantry and Proviso Food Pantry in Melrose Park, Vision Restoration Food Pantry and St. Eulalia/Quinn Center Food Pantry in Maywood, Cluster Tutoring, Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, and Pine Avenue United Church Emergency Food Pantry in Austin.
Jim Murray, a member of St. Bernardine Catholic Church who has been associated with the CROP Walk for many years, uses traditional Catholic terminology to explain why people from many church traditions get involved in the walk.
“The Corporal Works of Mercy [which concern the material needs of others] tell us that we should feed the hungry,” he said.
Despotes added that the funds received from local businesses have enabled the CROP Walk leadership team to purchase 400 T-shirts, which will be given to each walker who raises at least $25.
In addition to St. Bernardine, Hope Tabernacle has participated in the CROP Walk in a big way. Last year, not only did their members raise $1,060, but their praise team “rocked the house” as they led the walkers in singing gospel songs while waiting for the event to begin. St. Paul Thai Lutheran Church raised $950 and has hosted a rest stop several times in the past.
Despotes said Forest Parkers can join the CROP fundraising effort in two ways, even at the last minute. One is to go online to hwwcrop.org (Hunger Walkathon West CROP) and donate or just come to Pilgrim Congregational Church (Scoville and Lake in Oak Park) on May 7 at 1 p.m. and join the family fun, which will include face painting and activities for the kids. Donating $25 will get you a bright yellow CROP T-shirt, courtesy of Forest Park businesses.
When CROP started in 1947 it wasn’t a walkathon. CROP then was an acronym for Christian Rural Overseas Program. After the end of World War II, Europe was devastated, so farmers in the U.S. would donate a portion of their harvest and CWS would send it over to Europe to feed hungry people there.
The CROP website explains, “Today, we’ve outgrown the acronym, but we retain it as the historic name of the program. CROP Hunger Walks are interfaith hunger education and fundraising events sponsored by Church World Service and organized by CWS local offices across the U.S. Currently, well over 2,000 communities across the U.S. join in more than 1,300 CROP Hunger Walks each year. More than five million CROP hunger walkers have participated in more than 36,000 CROP Hunger Walks in the last two decades alone.”