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Forest Park resident Joanne Despotes has been hard at work along with her planning team getting ready for the 37th annual CROP Walk, aka Hunger Walkathon West (HWW).

Joanne is the chairperson for the whole event, and her husband Ted is the treasurer.  Up until a few weeks ago they and the planning team had added a few enhancements to the fundraiser which is always on the first Sunday of May, but on the whole the CROP Walk would proceed as usual with 300 walkers gathering in the sanctuary of Pilgrim Church in Oak Park for a brief inspirational rally before they went out to walk.

The best laid plans, however, of mice, men and the CROP Walk planning team did not anticipate COVID-19.

Because of the virus, Joanne made a very large pivot and sent an email on March 25 to the CROP team captains in all 35 participating congregations and organizations saying, “We will have a VIRTUAL CROP Hunger Walk on May 3 since it is unsafe for us to get together in person. This will challenge us but will also allow us to be innovative. I know that we can come together and raise funds for our friends and neighbors like never before.”

What will make the walk virtual this year is that instead of everyone gathering in one place on May 3, they will so to speak “walk in place.” On a blog connected to the HWW website, planning team member Marty Colchamiro wrote, “Walk together apart this year.  Plan to Walk on your own or with your immediately family. Choose a parking lot, from room to room in your house or apartment, around the block or at a city park.”

CROP is, in this way, making a digital detour from the way they’ve done things in the past in order to adapt to the constraints imposed by the coronavirus.

For example, Colchamiro suggested, “As you walk text, call or video chat with other friends walking at the same time you are.  We are using digital means to have our planning meetings in order to keep us all safe with social distancing. We recently had a virtual meeting of the Leadership Day to discuss this and other ways to continue to raise money for those in need.”

Hunger Walkathon West had already taken significant steps toward going digital.  Of the approximately 800 CROP Walks staged last year in the U.S., the Oak Park/River Forest/Forest Park fundraiser was ranked number three in terms of the total money raised online.

Colchamiro uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to promote the walk, and the planning team is training congregational captains to do virtually all of their fundraising online.