What the Walk for Hunger Accomplishes

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

On May 6, 41,000 walkers participated in the 44th Walk for Hunger and helped to raise $3.6 million for a wide range of hunger relief organizations in Massachusetts.

The executive director of Project Bread, Ellen Parker, addressed the crowd of walkers: “We’re all heartened that our economy is showing signs of recovery,” Parker said, “but we know that over 700,000 people in Massachusetts struggle to put food on the table. For families, it’s particularly difficult. That’s why we’re providing as much support as possible to community organizations that provide food for children. When a family gets predictable and good quality meals for their children every school day, they save money, which can then be put toward a healthy dinner at night.”

The funds donated by the walkers will provide support to over 450 emergency food programs in communities across Massachusetts. The programs supported by the Walk for Hunger encompass a wide range of missions that promote community food security. Some of the solutions developed by Project Bread to alleviate hunger in Massachusetts include improving the quality of public school lunches, and expanding access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits. Project Bread also promotes agricultural initiatives such as community and school gardens, mobile pantries and farmer’s markets offering local produce, co-ops, nutrition classes and community suppers.

Project Bread’s annual Walk for Hunger is the largest and longest continually running one-day fundraiser to fight hunger in the country. Over its 43-year history, the Walk for Hunger has counted over one million participants and raised over $85 million to fight hunger in Massachusetts. The Walk was started in 1969 by a group of activists led by Patrick Hughes of the Paulist Center, a Boston-based Roman Catholic community center. The walk, originally dubbed “Feet for Wheat,” took participants on a 29-mile route in Hughes’s hometown of Quincy.

In 1970, Hughes brought the “Greater Boston Walk for Hunger” (later re-named the Walk for Hunger) to Boston. The first Boston Walk for Hunger was shortened to 25 miles, brought out 2,000 participants. Four years later the route was shortened again to its current 20 miles under the direction of local activist Larry Kessler.

Online fundraising tools have allowed supporters from across the country, as well as a dozen foreign countries, to contribute to the cause. The Walk for Hunger’s Facebook application, which was created in 2011, raised over $80,000 in pledges this year. This year the Virtual Walker feature allowed fundraisers who were unable to attend to donate to the cause.

“We can say that we’ve kept up with the technology,” Parker told the crowd at this year’s Walk for Hunger. “The fact is that this Walk is a beloved tradition, and if we didn’t organize it, the walkers would come anyway.”

As the state’s leading anti-hunger organization, Project Bread has created a series of statewide programs to fight hunger, such as the Food Source Hotline, Status Reports on Hunger, and over-the-phone application assistance for people applying for SNAP benefits.

Project Bread awards Walk for Hunger grants to organizations based upon four criteria, including the need of the community that will be served, the extent to which a targeted population benefits from the program, and the program’s accessibility and efficiency in providing food to people in need.

I interviewed two Walk for Hunger participants. Janice, a walker in Brookline, said that, “Helping to raise funds to fight hunger is a top priority. We all need to help people in need in whatever way we can.”

Arthur, another walk participant, remarked, “The Walk is a very good way to support the community and help people. I have contributed to the Walk on an ongoing basis.”

ROBERT SONDAK is a Spare Change News writer/vendor. Robert has a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public & Community Service (CPCS). Robert also minored in Urban Planning and Advocacy. Currently, Robert is the Executive Director of the Nutrition Education Outreach Project, http://neopneopt.blogspot.com

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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