Rain dampens participation at Southfield hunger walk

The Detroit News

Southfield — Darin Page of West Bloomfield Township arrived at a hunger walk Sunday in Southfield on one of the coldest, rainiest days of the young spring in shorts.

"The calendar says it's spring, I think it's spring," Page said. "As long as my mind thinks that, I'll be plenty warm today."

Carla Schneider, left, of Dearborn, and Marilyn Scozeski, of Dearborn, walk together during the Crop Hunger Walk at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, April 14, 2019.  The walk raise funds and awareness for hunger issues.

Page was one of about three dozen people who took part, despite the weather, in the hunger walk this year, well below the 75 or so who normally show up.

CROP Hunger Walks have been going on in Southfield since 1982, said Sharon Hall, coordinator of this year's effort. 

"We haven't missed a single year in that time," Hall said earlier in the week. Sunday's walk carried on, even if the weather led a number of would-be walkers to opt out.

From 1982 to 2017, the Southfield version of the walks raised just more than $287,000, Hall said. A quarter of each year's donations, which amounts to about $72,000 over the years, has been given to local groups working to address hunger issues. This year's recipients are Southfield Human Services, Forgotten Harvest, and Meals on Wheels. 

Of the 25% of donations given locally, that's split evenly into thirds.

The lion's share, 75%, goes to Church World Service, an Elkhart, Indiana-based nonprofit founded in 1946, in the aftermath of World War II.

"Right after World War II, Europe was in shambles," Hinds said. "Church World Service was formed to respond. We had farmers throughout the Midwest who had (a wheat surplus), and wanted to share what they had with people who were struggling."

While food isn't sent across oceans anymore in steam ships, Church World Service's global ambition to address hunger and poverty issues hasn't changed. The hunger walks themselves date back to 1969. CROP once stood for Christian Rural Overseas Program, but that acronym no longer applies.

Mary Catherine Hinds, director of fundraising strategy for Church World Service, said that "we don’t have exact numbers on the income, but based on what we do know, we can extrapolate that we’ve raised more than $1 billion since our first walk."

Rhonda Terry, left, outreach case worker for Southfield Human Services, walks with Jim Tubbs, of Southfield, during the Crop Hunger Walk at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, April 14, 2019.  The walk raise funds and awareness for hunger issues.

Administrative costs related to the walks come out of Church World Service's end, Hinds said, and the rest goes to global projects targeting hunger, ranging "from community gardens or micro loans, clean water, education programs," among others.

Michigan, Hinds said, is "one of our strongest states" for the hunger walks, and last year hosted 81 of them, which drew about $1 million. That's about one-eighth of $8.3 million the walks raised last year. While the events are dotted throughout the calendar, most tend to take place on Sunday afternoons, she said.

Southfield Human Services, one of this year's recipients, has received some $13,000 in funding from CROP Hunger Walks since 1999, said Rhonda Terry, a case worker for the office. 

The funds will be used to bolster its emergency food assistance program, Terry said. 

"Four times a year, we give out non-perishable food" in partnership with Gleaners, Terry said. While the assistance is meant for Oakland County residents, Terry said non-residents have to simply sign a form to receive the food. 

"No one gets turned away," Terry said.

Page said he's been walking at the events for 10 to 15 years through his church, Emmanuel Lutheran in Southfield, and said before the event that "it'll be worth it, it'll be a good time," despite the weather. 

Sue Condino, 64, has been walking and volunteering "at least 33 years" at the events.

"The impact we have, for just a little money — teaching people how to drill wells, how to dig wells, the skills to do it themselves and train others — allows people to multiply as a family in their education, to empower themselves," Condino said.

Condino brought a mask to keep bronchitis from getting the best of her, and wore it after the walk pushed off from the architecture building at Lawrence Tech. There were one-mile and three-mile options offered.

Condino said she was shooting for the longer version.

"These people travel the distance every day in their lives," Condino said of the people abroad who benefit from the charity generated by the walks. "If I'm spent physically, I can stop and rest at any time. They don't have that option, (people who have to) carry water for miles and miles."

The Southfield/Lathrup CROP Hunger Walk had raised about $2,800 by Sunday night, according to its website.