After 36 years of service, Tom Holmes has been named grand marshal of this year’s CROP Hunger Walk, an event the Forest Park pastor previously co-chaired. Although Holmes — who is a contributing reporter and columnist for the Forest Park Review — is a natural choice for the job since he’s used to telling stories to crowds, he said he still feels “a little embarrassed” about the recognition.
“It’s neither, ‘Oh I don’t deserve it,’ nor ‘Oh, I’m flattered.’ It’s more like my turn to do that job,” Holmes said.
CROP — or “the Christian World Overseas Project” — celebrates its 50th year nationally this year, the annual event starting in 1969 as a movement by farmers to donate part of their harvest overseas after World War II. About 10 years ago, organizers decided CROP Walks should look local too. “We recognized that hunger is real in our neighborhoods,” Holmes said. This year, the CROP Walk in the Oak Park-Forest Park-River Forest area aims to raise $100,000 to benefit 10 local organizations, including the Maywood-based Housing Forward, Chicago and Oak Park-based Cluster Tutoring Program, OP-RF Food Pantry. The walk, which begins in Oak Park, raises the ninth-most out of the approximately 500 walks in the nation.
“It’s ending hunger one step at a time,” said Martin Colchamiro, event co-chair. “I would call this a march, not a walk.”
The group chose Holmes to be grand marshal this year because of his longstanding commitment to the cause. “It was all because of Tom,” said Colchamiro.
Holmes moved to Forest Park in 1982 to pastor St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, becoming involved with the CROP Walk as a way to obediently follow Christian teachings, take action with congregations of different faiths, and help worshippers become more outwardly-focused.
“[When you’re] building community, a problem is people, individuals or even nonprofits can get turned inward and focus on themselves and their own mission, and that’s a problem in the church too,” he said.
Over the years, Holmes has helped a number of organizations become involved with the event, including the Hope Tabernacle Community Church praise team, of which he is a member. “I am the token white boy in the group and we sing the old standards, like ‘This Little Light of Mine’ and ‘We are Marching in the Light of God.’ They blow the roof off,” Holmes said.
The group performs on a borrowed mobile stage from the Park District of Forest Park, which Holmes helped secure years ago through a connection to the organization’s executive director. The event is partially funded by Ferrara Candy Co. — now one of the largest donors — after Holmes called for years, eventually convincing the candy firm to get involved.
Holmes said he’s been working on his “three minutes in the spotlight” speech for about a month, saying he plans to thank attendees and mention that, “like a farmer, you sow seeds. Some of them sprout and some of them don’t and you never know what the harvest will bring. You just do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
But he said the event’s success is more reflective of the community’s commitment to stopping hunger, rather than a personal project of his own.
“There’s a lot of educated, confident, committed, community-minded, faith-based people in town,” he said. “Part of the problem in town is there’s so many organizations, they may have trouble networking, and that’s a good problem. I think that’s one of the reasons people feel it’s successful.”
The CROP Walk starts at 1 p.m. on May 5 at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St. in Oak Park. Sign up and donate online at crophungerwalk.org/oakparkil.