CROP Walkers fight hunger, step by step


By Barbara Dunlap-Berg*
Oct. 10, 2011 | ELKHART, IND. (UMNS)

Members of the Missouri United Methodist Church (from left) Theo Kurre, Rachel Diemler and Jon Curtis participate in a CROP Hunger Walk on a Sunday afternoon in Columbia, Mo. A web-only photo coutesy of Shengze Zhu/The Missourian.

From Anchorage, Alaska, and Tallahassee, Fla., to Bath, Maine, and Vista, Calif. — and many points in between — United Methodists join people of all faiths for autumn CROP Hunger Walks.

CROP stands for “Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty.” Church World Service, an international, ecumenical agency that works with partners to eradicate hunger and poverty and to promote global peace and justice, sponsors the events. The United Methodist Church is a Church World Service Partner.

CROP walkers find sponsors who donate set amounts for the distances walked. Seventy-five percent of the money raised goes toward global hunger projects, and the rest stays in the community.

Doris Hayes, 90, of Charlevoix United Methodist Church in Charlevoix, Mich., logged “just under three miles” in her first CROP Walk. Although she had supported CROP financially for years, Hayes decided it was time to become a CROP Walker.

While Hayes has a few medical issues she terms “understandable at my age,” the nonagenarian tries to walk at least a mile a day. Will Hayes participate in next year’s CROP Walk?

“I will if I can, if I’m still on my feet,” she responded.

Doris Hayes, 90, of Charlevoix United Methodist Church, Charlevois, Mich., logged “just under three miles” in the CROP Hunger Walk. A web-only photo courtesy of the Petosky News.

It seems many people agree with Hayes that a CROP Walk is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, exercise and earn money to end hunger at home and around the world.

Now in its 42nd year, the CROP Walk might well be the oldest such charity event. In 1969, a thousand people in Bismarck, N.D., walked in what may have been the first-ever CROP Hunger Walk — and raised $25,000. Many more have followed, resulting in millions of dollars.

‘A family event’

“My churches really get into (the CROP Walk),” said the Rev. Patricia Walz, who serves two New York congregations. Brownville United Methodist Church, with an average attendance of 70, includes many young families, and Dexter, an older congregation, has about 40 worshippers a week.

“Even if they can’t walk, they show up. … It’s a family event — with strollers, bicycles, tricycles and grandchildren.

“We raised $1,500,” Walz added. “My congregations are pretty amazing when they put their minds to something.”

In Danville, Va., more than 450 walkers raised $14,500. Beth Bauman directs children’s and youth ministries at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church and, for the fourth year, headed the local planning team.

She said one secret to their success is that “everybody has a job they’re passionate about.”

Danville has the second-highest unemployment rate in the state, so hunger and poverty are familiar topics. The team raised extra money so several homeless people could don CROP Hunger Walk T-shirts and participate.

“We really, truly have a diverse group of people (who want) to make a difference and build bridges in our community,” Bauman said.

People from Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and other faith traditions raised more than $16,000 in the Columbia, Mo., CROP Walk, which took place on World Communion Sunday.

“This is one of those great affirmations of the people of God,” declared the Rev. Cleo Kottwitz, a retired United Methodist pastor who attends Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia.

“This year’s CROP Walk packet had a challenge to raise $1,000,” he said. Confident he could meet that challenge, he shared it with his wife, Judy Parsons. She mentioned it to her fellow choir members and, in the end, raised more than he did.

“Between the two of us,” Kottwitz said, “we raised about $2,500.” He was pleased that several representatives of local agencies that receive funds from the walk now participate in the event.

CROP wins

The Rev. Keith Ferguson, pastor of visitation at Wesley United Methodist Church, Bloomington, Ill., said fighting hunger is a family tradition for him. “When I was growing up in North Dakota right after World War II,” he recalled, “my mother collected grain to go to Europe.” He has been a CROP Walker for about 40 years.

“My kids started doing the 10-mile CROP Walk when they were 5,” he said.

Sharing Ferguson’s commitment and offering a bit of friendly rivalry is the Rev. Camilla Hempstead, associate pastor. The two have a contest to see who can raise the most money and recruit the most walkers. “We never reveal how much each of us has raised,” Hempstead said. “We just say, ‘CROP won.’”

The competition, she added, “generates interest and keeps the CROP Walk in front of the congregation.” This year, 15 people from Wesley Church participated and garnered $2,400 for CROP.

CROP Walkers in Niagara Falls, N.Y., raise a banner in support of eliminating hunger and poverty. A web-only photo courtesy of Niagara Frontier Publications.

Why is the CROP Walk so vital?

“It is important to keep the community and myself aware of … hunger,” Hempstead answered. “It is a world issue, but also a community issue. Ten blocks from our church, people are hungry.”

Every year, people from more than 2,000 communities across the United States join in more than 1,600 CROP Hunger Walks. More than 5 million CROP Hunger Walkers have participated in more than 36,000 CROP Hunger Walks in the last two decades alone. The average walk is a 5K (3.1 miles).

According to the Church World Service website, “CROP Hunger Walks help to provide food and water, as well as resources that empower people to meet their own needs. From seeds and tools, to wells and water systems, to technical training and micro-enterprise loans, the key is people working together to identify their own development priorities, their strengths and their needs — something CWS has learned through some 64 years of working in partnership around the world.”

“There’s not a shortage of food in the world,” Hempstead said. “There’s a shortage of distribution.

“And we become a part of that shortage when we don’t … share our resources.”

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

CROP Hunger Walk demographics

  • 68 percent of participants are older than 18; average age is 33.5.
  • About two-thirds are women.
  • 64 percent of CROP Hunger Walkers older than 18 have a college or advanced degree. Half are professionally employed in their communities.
  • Half are CROP Hunger Walking for their second, third, fourth or more time.
  • 73 percent of participants say fighting hunger locally and globally is their key reason for taking part.
  • 53 percent say the CROP Hunger Walk is the only fundraising marathon-type activity in which they participate.
  • Walkers get about 95 percent of their sponsors from their place of worship, family, neighborhood and workplace.

—From Church World Service