SCHENECTADY — With a slight breeze and not a cloud in the sky, Sunday was an ideal day to go for a walk.
And hundreds throughout Schenectady County did exactly that, participating in the Phil Grigsby Memorial CROP Hunger Walk, an annual event that aims to raise awareness about poverty and food access as well as funds to combat food insecurity — a persistent problem exacerbated over the past two years by the pandemic and soaring inflation.
The CROP Hunger Walk is a nationwide event dating back to the late 1960s, but came to Schenectady just over 30 years ago. Participants raise money from sponsors for each mile walk and anyone can give money to support the cause.
Proceeds from the event are split between Church World Services, a religious group working to combat global poverty, and Schenectady Community Ministries, which operates more than 30 food pantries throughout Schenectady County and distributes thousands of meals through its summer meals program.
The event was renamed this year in honor of Rev. Phil Grigsby, who led SiCM for decades and worked to expand the reach of the CROP walk during his time with the organization. Grigsby died last year.
“What we want is for everybody to have everything they need for our children to grow strong and smart and aspire to be anything and everything they can be,” said SiCM CEO Rev. Amaury Tañón-Santos. “For your households to have everything they need to live with health and well-being, and for our communities to thrive.”
The event officially got underway following a small gathering of elected officials and other dignitaries at the Rev. Phil Grigsby Food Pantry located at SiCM headquarters on Albany Street. Participants gathered virtually and participated in their own walks because of the pandemic.
SiCM will be sharing a portion of its proceeds this year with the Bread of Life Food pantry, which operates out of Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam.
Food insecurity has long been a problem in Schenectady, where access to supermarkets can be scarce and poverty rates are high.
SiCM provided 486,557 free meals last year and saw over 10,500 visitors to its food pantry on Albany Street.
But with supply chain issues and rising inflation, food pantries have been navigating increased demand and difficulties securing some items for distribution.
The consumer price index — the amount the cost of products have risen over time — for at-home food items grew by 1.5% between February and March, and prices rose 10% over the last 12 months, the sharpest spike since 1981, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gas prices have also climbed 48% across the country during the same 12-month period.
The poverty rate in Schenectady, meanwhile, was 20%, according to the latest census estimates from last July.
At Messiah Lutheran, Rev. Dustin Wright said the rising prices have more than doubled the demand at the church’s weekly produce distribution event.
The event served around 40 families each week last year, but has grown to around 90 a week this year, Wright said.
“There was a little bit of a dip for a while, and then it just skyrocketed again with inflation and everything else,” he said.
Tañón-Santos, meanwhile, said the pandemic has shown how global events can impact local communities, and its events like the CROP Walk that allow organizations like SiCM to raise awareness around the issues.
“The pandemic has allowed us to see the interconnectedness and the reaches of poverty,” he said. “The CROP Walk is allowing us to share the interconnectedness when it comes to food insecurity in Schenectady and throughout the world.”
Those interested in contributing to the Phil Grigsby Memorial CROP Hunger Walk can donate through the end of the year by visiting: sicm.us/crop-walk.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.