By Sally Blanchard
Judy Halverson, a member of Hillview United Methodist Church in Boise has coordinated Hunger Crop Walks since 1987. In October of 2020, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic concerns, and realizing the growing strain on food pantries, she needed to reimagine the annual event to be safe for all participants.
What is a Hunger Crop Walk? Church World Service, an interdenominational non-profit, invites communities nationwide to participate in Hunger Crop Walks around the theme “Ending hunger one step at a time.” Groups recruit walkers who gather donations toward alleviating hunger, choose a date and do the walk. The funds raised go to CWS ministries from combating droughts in Nicaragua to providing agricultural training in Indonesia to stocking shelves in hundreds of food pantries across the United States. Then 25 percent remains in the local community for local food pantries and food security programs.
Instead of meeting in one large group county-wide walk as they did in prior years, Hillview members and friends started the walk from their church parking lot or their homes and walked in family groups or independently. All ages were welcome and Halvorsen said many families participated with the youngest in strollers. Walkers brought their own water bottles and snacks instead of the usual shared tables of refreshments.
“It was the easiest one ever,” Halverson said. “We didn’t have to reserve a park and pay the fees for permits.”
They set the distance at 3.34 miles; the distance studies show most of the developing world has to walk daily to find clean water. Three other United Methodist Churches in the Boise area participated along with Hillview; Meridian, Kuna and Whitney as well as other churches and non-profits in the area. Halverson and her organizing team mapped out some routes and encouraged each church and individuals within that group to choose to walk independently with masks and safe physical distancing.
Instead of the live send-off they usually have, they used a video featuring the CEO of the Idaho food bank Karen Vauk. A clergy person offered a prayer and they were off and walking.
Halvorsen said the theme of the Hunger Crop Walks holds even more meaning.
“This year, more than ever we are showing we can step up and support neighbors in our communities and around the world. We were together, walking apart,” she concluded.
This year’s walk in the Boise area raised $18,860 with more than $10,500 raised by the four United Methodist Churches.
Spirit of the Valley UMC in Halsey was part of the Central Linn County CROP Hunger Walk on September 21, 2020. It was their 11th year with Karen and David Scranage as coordinators.
This time they had 25 walkers masked and physically distanced in family groups, four who walked independently, plus three dogs and a few support volunteers, for the 10K walk. They use the 10 kilometers as a guide because they learned that is the distance that much of the world’s people walk daily to obtain clean water, food and fuel. Participants are welcome to shorten that distance to what is comfortable for them individually.
Each participant received a postcard with a photo and name of a participant in another part of the world who they were symbolically walking with to alleviate world hunger.
“What I like best about the walks is it’s a community effort,” Scranage said. “Even if we have to be 6 feet apart, we are still a community.”
This community event raised $4,975, one quarter of which was split between two local food agencies, with the balance going to CWS’s worldwide ministries.
Spirit of the Valley’s tradition has been to share a soup lunch following the walk. Scranage said that was a part of the walk that had to be reimagined this year with COVID-19 restrictions.
“We couldn’t have our usual shared meal at the end of the walk but made up treat bags ahead of time for all of our walkers,” she said.
Hunger Crop Walks fit into the United Methodist wish for abundant health for all. “Abundant Health” is a focus in the Oregon-Idaho Conference supporting healthy Body, Mind and Spirit, especially for those in need. Emilie Kroen, assistant conference lay leader, heads the team. She notes, “The Crop Hunger Walks support and raise awareness of hunger in our world and our call to provide for the least of these and to advocate for changes in policies to end hunger. Healthy bodies require healthy food. (This is ) an important element for abundant health and a ministry some of our churches engage in to further abundant life for all in their communities.”
To read more about organizing a Crop Walk in your church or community go to https://events.crophungerwalk.org/2021