Men, women and children locally and across the globe often go to bed at night hungry because they either can’t afford or don’t have access to food.
In an effort to ease that pain, members from about 20 different faith communities will take part in a 6-mile walk next month to raise money and awareness for hungry people.
At least 200 people are expected for Champaign-Urbana’s 28th CROP Walk for Hunger, stepping off at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 outside Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana.
CROP originally was an acronym for the Christian Rural Overseas Program. Since that time, it has outgrown the acronym, but organizers still retain it as the historic name.
Participants will walk a 6-mile route around Champaign-Urbana. Volunteers from some of the participating churches will work at water stops long the way. At the end of the event, participants will visit Wesley United Methodist Church for refreshments.
The CROP Walk movement started 50 years ago in Bismarck, N.D., where 1,000 people walked on Oct. 17, 1969, and raised $25,000 to stop hunger.
“In the early days, farmers would donate part of their crops,” said Elaine Peppers, a church volunteer from St. Peters United Church of Christ who is co-coordinator of the local walk. “A truck would come up and load up grain.”
The length of the CROP Walks was set at 6 miles because “that’s how far people in underdeveloped countries walk just to get water,” Peppers said.
In the half-century since that first walk, more than 5 million participants have taken part in the movement.
Co-Coordinator Anthony Stauder of Wesley United Methodist Church said close to 200 people took part in the 2018 Champaign-Urbana CROP Walk, raising $23,000, and organizers would like to top that amount this year.
“A lot of participants tell us the value of taking part in the CROP Walk is getting to meet other people from different faiths in the community they might not otherwise have a connection with,” Stauder said.
Participating faith communities a year ago included St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Champaign-Urbana, St. John’s Episcopal Church, the Baha’i Faith Community, St. Matthew Lutheran Church, the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center, St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, Wesley United Methodist Church, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Community United Church of Christ, Faith United Methodist Church, the First Presbyterian Church of Urbana, First United Methodist Church of Champaign, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Grace Lutheran Church and McKinley Presbyterian Church.
“The First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana participated in the past, and we are happy to have them come back,” Stauder said.
For Dawn Longfellow of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Mahomet, this will be her first CROP Walk.
“I’m very excited,” Longfellow said. “We have a lot of hunger issues in our community and internationally, and it is a great way for people to get involved.”
Peppers said the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center raised most of its donations online.
“It is definitely a multi-generational event because we have walkers as young as 5 years old and as old as 92,” Stauder said. “Participants encourage friends, family and co-workers to donate money and encourage other members of their faith community’s team.
Stauder said it isn’t too late to create a team to participate in the Champaign-Urbana walk.
“You don’t have to be part of a faith community,” Stauder said. “We are encouraging running groups or walking groups.”
People may sign up for the event or donate online at crophunger.org/champaignil.
According to Stauder, a quarter of all funds raised in the local CROP Walk will go to the Wesley Food Pantry, Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, the Sola Gratia Farm and the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.
The remaining proceeds will go to projects alleviating poverty and hunger and ensuring people around the world have access to sustainable food sources through Church World Service, a cooperative ministry of 37 Christian denominations.
CROP Walk money has fought droughts in Nicaragua, trained farmers in Indonesia and stocked pantries across the United States.
“Once, when I asked a gentleman for a contribution for the CROP Walk, he asked me why we keep doing this,” Peppers said. “I responded that I didn’t think anybody should experience hunger.
“The man asked for a reason for him to give. I said last year, money from the CROP Walk was spent in Vietnam to build latrines. The man immediately got out his wallet and pulled out some money, telling me, ‘I’m a sanitation engineer.’”